The reason we have copyeditors and proofreaders

This week I’ve been up to my ears in the duties that most people outside of the writing/publishing world think that an editor spends all her time at: proofreading and copyediting. The truth is that the copyeditor and proofreader are different people from the editor, and that I as the editor do a lot of what might be termed managerial duties at this stage–sending the manuscript out and receiving it back in, accepting and rejecting changes, and then keeping an eye out as I’m going through those changes for anything the author, copyeditor, proofreader, and I might have missed in previous passes.

It’s actually kind of fun, but in a much different way than earlier on in the life of a manuscript. This step in the process really brings in my detail-oriented side. Comparing details and thinking about minutiae perhaps might not be as exciting as the developmental stage, but it’s an important step in the life of a book. The extra eyes of the copyeditor and proofreader are vital to making sure that I haven’t missed typos, grammatical problems, blue eyes here and green eyes there on the same character, and other mistakes–mistakes that readers will always catch. 

The thing about being an editor is that you’re looking at different versions of the same text four, sometimes five or more times. When I’m first editing, I’m not looking for grammatical problems because if a character isn’t working, the text might change dramatically. Not to mention that typos can be introduced in the course of even small revisions, so it’s best to leave the detail work until the big picture is taken care of. 

Perhaps likening this to the installation of a new bathtub will help: you don’t caulk the seals of the old tub and then rip everything out and put in the new tub, because you’ll just have to recaulk (can you tell I just learned how to caulk a tub last weekend?). So leaving the details until the third or fourth pass is necessary. 

But that means that by the fourth time I’m reading it, the eye can easily elide over mistakes, even very obvious ones. This is why another pair of eyes is crucial to catch those last few errors. And then it comes back to me, the one who knows the project best (on the publisher’s side–it also goes back to the author for one last look), to be sure that it all comes together.

So that’s what I’m doing this week–working on bringing it all together for a couple
books in various stages.