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Five Ways to Succeed as a Book Copy Editor

Five Ways to Succeed as a Book Copy Editor

January 28, 2020 By Cindy Howle

Getting your first freelance job from a production editor at a trade book publisher can be difficult.

But it does happen! If you do get that break, here’s how you can impress the author, the editor, and the production editor on your first job and ensure that you’ll be considered for more work in the future.

Take a few days to look over the manuscript, then ask any tricky style questions you have in one email. I’m glad to help if you’re not sure what direction to take, but please don’t email me every time you have to make a judgment call.

Follow any specific directions, house style, and prescribed stylebooks or dictionaries closely. I get more annoyed by the flouting of Chicago Manual of Style guidelines than any minor changes—such as capitalizing dog breeds that include geographic names—that the author may stet but probably won’t. If you do stet a consistent style choice, make that clear on the style sheet (e.g., Hayley the dog is a lab, lc, not Lab; au. pref).

On that note: Make a detailed but edited style sheet. A timeline is helpful; a 75-page book report is not. Character traits are excellent; the eye color of an unnamed person who’s only in one scene is not. Keep whatever notes you need as you work, but send me a clean, useful style sheet when you return the manuscript.

Meet the deadline. Don’t rush, and don’t cut it too close (noon the day the manuscript is due is “close” for me). Returning a job a few days early can be nice—if the work is stellar. Take the time you need because it could be your only shot.

Extra credit: Sincere compliments to the author are often appreciated. A well-placed “Ha!” or “Wow!” may even land you in the acknowledgments. But be sure to do a thorough copyediting job while you’re enjoying the story! The author won’t love you as much if their advance reading copies are full of typos.

With a great eye for editing and these tips in mind, you should make a good impression, and that’s the first step in a long, lucrative freelance-client relationship.

Cindy Howle has been a production editor at Penguin Young Readers for almost 20 years. Someone once called her on the phone and asked her how to spell “Chihuahua.”

Five Ways to Succeed as a Book Copy Editor was originally published in Tracking Changes (Summer 2019 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.

Header Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

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