The essential questions an author should ask a copyeditor

28 March, 2024

My previous blog was about how to find an editor who is experienced, qualified, and a good fit for you. Now you have found an editor you like – their website is professional, they you like their client testimonials, their emails are friendly and professional – what questions do you need to ask them before you trust them with your book?

  • What experience do you have of working on books in the genre I write in? This is essential. A fiction editor must be familiar with any genre they are offering to edit. There’s no point sending me your sci-fi masterpiece, for example, as I don’t read sci-fi books, but if you’ve written a crime novel, a thriller or a romance, then yes please! I know the rules around these genres and what’s required.
  • What do you think my manuscript needs? Does it need a development edit or a copyedit? You and the editor should agree on what your MS needs. If you’d like the editor to focus on something specific, e.g. setting, story arc, or how to build tension between your two main characters, then say this.
  • What is included in a copyedit? It’s important to agree the scope of the job, so that you know exactly what to expect. For example, a copyedit won’t usually deal with ‘bigger picture’ issues such as story arc or plot. The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has a handy definition of copyediting.
  • When can you edit my book? Agree when you will send the MS to the editor, and when they will return it.
  • How will you work? If your MS is in Word, the usual way is for an editor to use tracked changes and comments. Are you familiar with tracked changes? If not, you might get a bit of a shock when your MS comes back to you… I suggest you check out a Microsoft tutorial to find out how to work with tracked changes.
  • And the million-dollar question (sadly, editors don’t get paid this much, although we’re worth it): how much will the edit cost? Find out when the editor would like to be paid, and how they would like to be paid. Many editors ask for 50% of a job fee up front. This is to protect them against authors who refuse to pay. It also helps to weed out flaky authors from those who are serious about having their work edited.
  • What else will you send me along with my edited MS? A good editor will always send you a style sheet along with the edited MS. A style sheet is essential: it shows the decisions an editor has made for consistency during an edit, relating to spelling, grammar, punctuation, hyphenation, how to treat numbers, and so on.
  • Would you like me to sign a contract? An editor may send you a contract to sign. This is to protect them as well as you. Alternatively, an email in which you agree terms is also legally binding. (Caveat: I am not a lawyer! Seek legal advice for your jurisdiction if necessary.)

Now you have discussed all these essential issues, you can agree the terms and scope of the job and you both know where you stand. The copyedit should go smoothly, and you can look forward to receiving your edited file from the copyeditor on time.