Everything you need to know about having your book copyedited

If you’re writing a book, it’s more than likely that at some point you will need editorial support to get you closer to publication. But maybe the thought of having your book edited is overwhelming. Where do you start?

If you’ve never worked with an editor before, you may have more questions than answers.

Although you may have a rough idea of what will happen, there are probably lots of things you aren’t sure about, or that you don’t know you don’t know! Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions I’m asked.

The answers here relate to how I work as a copyeditor. Individual editors will vary in their approach.

How will I know my book is ready to be edited?

There are different levels of editing, each with a different function, and they happen at different stages of the writing process. Let’s take a brief overview.

You may have heard of developmental editing, where an editor takes a big-picture look at your book’s structure, the development of the narrative or argument, and whether it achieves what you set out to do for the reader.

At this stage your book may be in a fairly rough draft initially, and you work together with your editor to develop the book’s overall shape and flow.

After implementing the advice from your developmental editor, you may decide to engage some beta readers from your target audience to get feedback on whether your book hits the mark with them. This feedback may lead you to make further revisions, perhaps adding more detail in some areas, or removing sections that don’t add to the book.

Once your book is finished to your satisfaction, and the content is complete, you’re ready for copyediting and proofreading. At this stage you should consider your writing work to be done and shouldn’t anticipate making significant changes by adding new content.

This is where I can help you. Only you know when you’ve reached this point and feel happy to hand over your book for copyediting.

If you feel anxious at the thought of this, you’re not alone! Most writers find giving their completed book over to an editor difficult – it can be hard to accept that you have to stop tweaking what you’ve written and let someone else work on it.

Related content

What are the different levels of editing?

What kind of editor do you need?

How to find and evaluate an editor

Does my self-published book need an editor?

How far ahead do I need to book an editor?

One thing is for sure; don’t wait until you’ve finished your book before starting the search for your ideal editor. Good editors are often booked up weeks or months ahead and may not be able to fit you in at short notice.

If you have a specific event that publishing your book is tied to – perhaps an important event you’re speaking at, or a significant milestone in your life – you need to make sure you allow enough time to finish writing and then have your book edited and printed (or uploaded if it’s an ebook).

An important fact that new writers often overlook is that after the copyeditor is finished you must allow yourself time to review their edits and deal with any queries they have raised.

And, I promise you, there will always be queries! Remember that as your editor I’m also your reader’s advocate, and it’s part of my job to flag up anything that’s unclear or ambiguous.

So it’s a good policy to begin your search for a suitable editor even before you’ve finished writing.

And don’t forget that once the editing is done and dusted you need to schedule time for formatting or typesetting and proofreading, followed by printing if it’s a physical book, or uploading to your platform of choice if it’s an ebook.

Everyone involved will have their own schedules and other clients, so you can see that the earlier you start piecing the jigsaw together, the better!

Related content

Although these two blog posts refer to finding a proofreader, the same principles apply in your search for a copyeditor.

How to find a professional proofreader, part 1

How to find a professional proofreader, part 2

You might also find this episode of The Editing Podcast useful.

How much will copyediting cost?

This is an impossible question to answer without seeing your book, for several reasons:

  • I need to assess length of your book and the level of intervention that’s needed. No two books are the same in terms of the editing they need, so I don’t quote a price without seeing your book.
  • It depends on your schedule. If you’re in a hurry and need your book edited at short notice to a tight deadline, which may mean I need to work evenings and weekends, then you can expect to pay more.
  • I may need to do a short sample edit to help calculate my fee.
  • If you haven’t finished your book yet, then I’ll base my quote on your estimated final word count and a sample of your book. This will be subject to change if either is significantly different on receiving your completed book.

Although some editors are happy to quote a price based solely on word count, I prefer to see a sample of your writing at the very least before giving you a figure.

Related content

How to save money on editing

How much will it cost to edit my book?

I’m going to be late delivering my book to you. What happens now?

If we made our arrangement to work together a while before I’m scheduled to start work, I’ll get in touch two weeks before the start date to remind you that I need to receive your completed book file by the day before I’m due to start work.

If you know that you’ve fallen behind schedule and aren’t going to meet your deadline, please don’t wait until I get in touch with you to let me know. Tell me as soon as you can so we can sort something out.

When you give me enough notice, I may be able to reschedule and move your start date to a later slot in my diary. If this is the case you won’t lose your deposit.

If you don’t notify me or give me sufficient notice, remember that this is what your non-refundable deposit covers – it compensates me for a gap in my schedule where it’s too late to replace your booking with another client.

What I won’t do is delay starting another client’s book or reduce the time I have allocated for them to accommodate you, as that isn’t fair.

Long story short – keep in touch and let me know if you’ve hit a bump in the road. It happens to the best of us, but letting me know in good time is essential.

Do I sign a contract with you?

Our exchange of emails in which we agree the scope of the work I will do – word count, timescale, level of intervention – forms a contract. I will always lay out in detail exactly what we have agreed I will (or won’t) do for the agreed fee and ask you to confirm by return email that you agree. Without this explicit agreement from you, I won’t add you to my schedule.

I will also ask you to confirm that you’ve read and agree to my Terms and Conditions, which are available on my website.

My terms and conditions clarify the framework and processes I work with and are designed to protect us both.

How do I send you my book?

Ask any professional editor and almost without exception they agree (whether they like it or not) that Microsoft Word is the industry standard for editing.

How you decide to write your book is entirely up to you. Some clients work in Google Docs or Scrivener, while others may dictate directly into their phone, but I will expect you to convert your completed manuscript to a Word document before sending it to me.

You might think this sound a bit precious or prescriptive but, honestly, there are so many features in Word that make how I work more efficient – Advanced Find and Replace and wildcard functions, macros, and specialist softward such as PerfectIt to name a few. These aren’t all available to me on other platforms.

For example, in Google Docs there is no way of showing hidden characters. These are characters that have a function but don’t show up on the printed page – spaces, tabs, paragraph marks, section breaks and page breaks, for example. They don’t matter so much when you’re writing, but part of my job as your editor is to prepare the file for typesetting, so I need to manage these characters properly. And I can’t do that if I can’t see them.

Similarly, PDFs are not designed for editing – the text is laid out in a PDF in preparation for printing and by this stage the text should be ready for proofreading. This is a quality assurance step, checking for any final errors or layout problems.

For other types of content I do work in Google Docs, or in a client’s content management system, but for a book-length piece of writing Word is the way to go.

Can I send you a chapter at a time?

No, because I don’t work on one chapter at a time – editing isn’t a linear process. This means I don’t start at page 1, chapter 1 and work my way through to The End.

I do multiple passes of your whole book, each focusing on specific things. For example, I’ll do a sweep for double spaces, extra paragraph marks and tabs, and various other ‘clean-up’ tasks right at the start.

I’ll focus on your chapters and heading hierarchy to make sure I have everything in the right order and it’s all formatted properly in another pass.

Then I’ll run PerfectIt to check for consistency of spelling, capitalisation, hyphenation, etc. and start building a project style sheet, where I record all the decisions specific to your book.

And all this time I’m building a picture of your book and getting a handle on the type of issues I’ll have to look out for, before I’ve even started to read what you’ve written.

So you can see that receiving a book piecemeal would prevent this workflow from happening, as I’d have to treat each chapter like a mini-book and run all the passes through each one. Then I’d have to cross-check between them all for those important consistency and style issues. All of which takes more time and costs more money.

The only exception I have to this is when I work for education publishers on textbooks, where I might receive a few units at a time. In this case they give me a comprehensive style sheet which I use to impose consistency and style.

I’m worried you’ll steal my idea

Having their intellectual property stolen is a genuine worry that many writers have when they consider having their book edited, but I can assure you that it is a vanishingly rare occurrence.

No professional editor is going to risk their reputation by stealing a client’s idea, or their whole book, and trying to pass it off as their own.

This is why it’s always worth hiring a professional: one who has a proven track record and is a member of a professional organisation, such as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), ACES, IPEd, EPANI or the EFA, or can demonstrate their training, experience and commitment to ethical practice in other ways.

For example, I’m an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, which means I am bound by their Code of Practice, which includes guidance on:

the professional behaviour of both freelance/employee and client/employer; standards for proofreading, editing and project management; and information on web editing, electronic file handling, email etiquette, confidentiality and computer security.

Ensuring editorial excellence: The CIEP Code of Practice

How long will it take to edit my book?

The main factors that influence how long it will take to edit your book are:

  • the length of your book
  • the level of editing you ask for

As a rough guide, let’s say that I copyedit at an average speed of 2,000 words per hour.

If your book is 80,000 words then it would take me 40 hours to edit it. Let’s assume that I can edit for five hours a day before my brain starts to switch off from the intensive concentration and screenwork (that’s an average based on a lot of anecdotal evidence from me and my colleagues). That’s eight days to edit your 80,000 words.

However, I like to build some wiggle room into my schedule to allow for unexpected occurences like my internet service going down for a day, family responsibilities, or days where I’m not firing on all cylinders so need to take some time away from my screen. It happens to all of us, and editors will generally allow time for this in deciding how long a job will take.

Other factors that might slow down the process are fact-checking, cross-checking references, very technical or complex language, or if English isn’t your first language. All of these can bring my speed down to 1,000 words an hour, or even less.

So for your 80,000 word book I might quote you anywhere between two and four weeks for a copyedit.

Related content

How long does editing take?

Will I get updates on your progress?

Generally no. Let’s just say that no news is good news!

As I said in the section on whether you can send me a chapter at a time, I don’t work through your book in a straight line, so I may be quite far into the edit before starting to read it for sense.

I will send any queries back to you at the end of the copyedit, but if there is a decision that needs to be made about something that will affect the rest of the edit then I’ll get in touch to clarify it with you. It helps if I know your availability during this time.

What changes will you make to my book?

Depending on the specific content of your non-fiction book, copyediting will include some or all of the following:

  • Clean up of the file to remove extraneous spacing, tabs, breaks, etc.
  • Application of Word styles to headings and elements, e.g. quotes and lists
  • Correction of any spelling, punctuation and grammar errors
  • Ensuring there is a flow and rhythm to the writing
  • Removal of any repetition and redundancies
  • Checking tables, images, and references are correctly presented and cited.

Related content

Does my self-published book need a copyeditor or proofreader?

How will I know what changes you’ve made?

I use the Track Changes function in Microsoft Word to record all of my edits. In a full length book this can look overwhelming as there can be thousands of changes and hundreds of comments.

The last thing I want to do is bring back any bad memories you may have of your English teacher handing back your work covered in red pen.

So I also send a separate file with all the edits accepted and just the comments remaining. Most authors find this easier to work with, as you can read your edited writing much more easily and refer back to the version with Track Changes if you’re not sure about a particular edit and want to read your original words.

How do I get my book back from you?

I’ll send you two versions of your book file as Word documents: one ‘clean’ with all the edits accepted and the other with all my edits tracked and visible.

I will also give you the project style sheet that I create specifically for this job. It details all the decisions I’ve made about consistency and styling, such as capitalisation, hyphenation, italics and how numbers are displayed.

Finally, I include a handover note, or editorial letter, which summarises the main issues and points you to any specific comments or queries.

Most importantly, I’ll also point out what I liked in your book! Editing isn’t just about correcting errors – I think it’s essential for you to know that I found particular sentences, paragraphs or sections of your writing strong, or that there were passages where I think you really got your message across, or empathised with your reader, or made me laugh or cry!

If the edited files are too large to send via email (which can happen if it’s a heavy edit with lots of changes) I use WeTransfer, an encrypted file transfer service located in the European Union, and governed by the EU’s data protection laws. WeTransfer say: ‘Your files are encrypted when they are being transferred (TLS) and when they are stored (AES-256). Once your files are safely stored, they can only be accessed using the unique links sent to the sender and recipient.’

Related content

Style sheets for writing and editing

What is a style sheet and do I need one?

Will my book be perfect?

Honestly? Perfection is subjective and so I can’t guarantee that your book will be perfect in your eyes.

Language is fluid, and there are fewer rules than you might think, so if you have clear preferences it helps to tell me up front. Do you prefer to use the serial comma? Or maybe you’d like to avoid semicolons? Perhaps you want to capitalise all instances of job titles? Let me know up front and I’ll add them to your project style sheet.

One person’s rules are another’s preferences; one person’s errors are another’s push for realism; one person’s ignorance is another’s knowledge. Ne’er the twain shall meet.

Louise Harnby, Will your book be perfect after editing?

When I’m editing your book I will, of course, do my utmost to make it as error-free as possible, given the parameters of our agreement, including the level of intervention and the time frame. But among the thousands of corrections that happen in a book-length document it’s inevitable that some mistakes will slip through.

This is why I always recommend that, where possible, once you have reviewed the edits and your book has been typeset you should also have it proofread. This separate stage in the publishing process checks for any errors missed during the copyedit or introduced in the design process.

Related content

Here’s an episode of The Editing Podcast where Louise and I discuss zombie rules.

What if I don’t agree with your edits?

It’s your writing, and you are totally free to accept or reject any or all of my edits. If I haven’t commented to explain why I’ve edited something in a particular way, I’m happy to explain my reasoning to you.

There is rarely one definitive answer to editing a single sentence for clarity, never mind a whole book! If you gave your book to ten different copyeditors you’d get ten different edited files back, and none of them would necessarily be wrong, but there would be some that you’d clearly prefer over others.

This is why it’s so important to establish that I am a good fit for your writing, and that my level of intervention and style of editing works for you, before you hire me.

A sample edit will help you to decide whether you like what I do, from the types of edits I make and my level of intervention to how I communicate with you in my comments and queries.

Getting the right fit editor for you will save time, money and heartache in the long run.

One thing that you can’t do is to refuse to pay or ask for a discount or refund if I’ve completed the work as outlined in our agreement and you simply don’t like what I’ve done.

If you are concerned that I’ve missed errors or changed the meaning of your writing then I appreciate the opportunity to put it right. If you’re still unhappy with what I’ve done, you can raise a complaint using the CIEP complaints and appeals procedure. However, I’m proud of the excellent working relationships I have with my clients and hope that no client of mine ever has to go down this road.

Related content

What is a sample edit?

If I add more material will you edit that too?

My agreement for a copyedit covers one editorial pass. Once I hand the file back to you, that stage is complete.

If you then go on to add new material or rewrite the existing content and would like me to edit it, that is outside the scope of our original agreement and will be subject to an additional fee.

You can, of course, include a second pass in our agreement if you expect that you might want to make further changes, and this will be accounted for in the overall fee.

Will my book be ready to publish?

Copyediting is not the end stage in the publishing process. After copyediting your book will need formatting/typesetting to lay it out in preparation for printing.

After it is laid out but before it’s printed, your book should be proofread to check for:

  • any remaining errors in the text
  • errors that have been introduced in the typesetting process
  • layout and formatting issues.

You should also have organised your cover design, blurb and an ISBN, and decided how you’re going to publish (print? ebook? both?) and distribute your book.

If you feel overwhelmed by all the tasks involved in self-publishing your book (I haven’t even mentioned marketing, or sales and distribution, or any of the other things you’re responsible for) then you might want to consider getting support from an organisation such as the Alliance of Independent Authors, which has a wealth of guidance and information for self-publishing authors.

Related content

Page proofs and the proofreading process

Does my self-published book need a copyeditor or proofreader?

When do I pay?

I require a deposit of 50% of the fee, or payment of the full amount if it’s under £500, within three days of our agreeing to work together.

This deposit secures your slot in my schedule and is non-refundable. I will invoice you for the balance when I return your edited file, and this is payable within seven days.

You can read my Terms and Conditions for more details.

Will you write a review of my book?

Sorry, no. Even if I’ve loved every word you’ve written, a review from your editor could be seen as a conflict of interest and result in your book being removed from sites such as Amazon.

Can I credit you in the acknowledgements?

There is no obligation for you to credit me, but if you’d like to do this please give me the opportunity to review it first, and to decline if I prefer. Please don’t be offended if that’s the case.

That sounds great. How do I book in with you?

If you’re interested in working with me, I look forward to learning more about you and your book. Let’s get started! You can send me a message here and we can begin our conversation!

I’m not ready to work with you just yet. Can I stay in touch?

Of course! The best way to do that is sign up for The Editor’s Note here, and you’ll receive monthly updates from me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Editor's Note

Monthly updates on writing and editing non-fiction, from my desk to yours.

Other articles for you – check them out!