What a copy editor is ... and is not
As my career has progressed, I've had to field a lot of questions from people who aren't sure what a copy editor does. Do I write? Will I change your story or characters? Will I replace your words with my own?
So, for them, and for all of you who might wonder, I offer this: A copy editor is not a copywriter. Perfecting someone else's words and creating one's own are two very distinct functions. My specialty is the former. I'm not here to rewrite your work or dilute your authorial voice. Your writing is your writing, and I work to make it the best it can be. A copy editor is not a substantive or developmental editor. The work I do is, at its best, utterly invisible. When I'm done with your piece, you won't be staring at a thousand comments telling you to change characters, motivations, arguments, or major plot points. You'll see your story, or your article or report, just polished up and error-free. A copy editor is not just a "typo catcher." Fixing those eye-catching typos (and those that aren't so easy to spot) is a big part of what I do. But that's not all. I examine your sentences to make sure they all hold up and flow logically from one to the next. I eliminate "garbage words" that take up space, but don't add to your argument. I point out to you if a reader needs more information to understand what you're saying. I conform your work to the style guide of your organization or publisher. And I ensure that your use of language and formatting are consistent across your entire work. To put it simply, I take care of all the little details, so you can focus on the big picture.
So, what is a copy editor?
A copy editor is a sentence mechanic. I check out the gears and pistons that make your words go. I make sure they're well-oiled and ready for action. If you're missing a verb or a preposition, or if your sentence just isn't hanging together the way it should, I'll tune it up for you. Don't understand the way sentences work? Unsure about parallel structure or semicolons? I've got you covered. I'm an expert in all those little rules that make English go, and I'll do the dirty work to make sure all you have to do is turn the key and drive. A copy editor is a consistency expert. Forget whether you used a hyphen in "large scale" a hundred pages back? Not sure if the character you introduced in Chapter 2 was John or Jonathan? Don't worry: I've already noted it in the style sheet I build exclusively for you and your document. I keep tabs on every decision you make as you write: formatting, capitalization, punctuation, even details like font size. I notice those inconsistencies that you wouldn't see if someone didn't point them out. And I'll point them out — or, when I can, just go ahead and fix them, so you don't even have to think about it all. A copy editor is a chiropractor for your words. I'm sure you've heard some people scoff and say a copy editor is not necessary, or that there's no need for two or more levels of editing. But the time I take on your work, and the level of detail at which I examine it, simply can't be done at the same time as focusing on bigger-picture issues. Copy editing is a necessary step if you intend to publish anything, no matter how "clean" you think it may be. Not everybody chooses to use a chiropractor — and not everybody thinks they need a copy editor. But those who have used us swear by us and say we've changed their lives.