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A Copy Editing Q&A

Copy editing for myself, do I have to be neat and tidy?

Don't be squeamish: rework the monster.
Only YOU will ever see these sheets, so change the whole thing, if you want to!

No. Proofread and edit in any way you like. Every writer has a different way of working, even though it's true that the industry itself has a traditional, regimented way of doing things. In the early days of a book, however, you're not writing for them, but for yourself.

When you're working only for yourself and no one else has to understand what you mean — go ahead and make a right, royal mess! You only have to worry about your edits being comprehensive to other people if you're working with a publisher and typesetter, and will be mailing the galley proof back to them, with all your changes and corrections in.

So long as you're working for, and with, only yourself, use any system you like. For example, I'll be editing and proofreading at the same time (why not? It's Keegan's own work, on Keegan's own desk), mixing up every kind of symbol (including some self-invented ones) without a qualm ... because I'll be the one putting the corrections into the pages on the computer.

The pages above are from a Keegan book that's receiving its final edits, prior to going to press. When a piece of work has made it out of the computer and onto paper, it will already have been proofread and edited several times. On paper, being the absolutely final version before the type is sent to the printer, I work on a "galley proof," which is a printout of the press-ready copy — the book will be printed at 6" x 9" (trade size), but the reading copy is printed on A4 paper. This gives big margins all around, facilitating the work. I scribble on the copy. ALL over the copy. Almost every page! Very few pages pass parade without getting the spit-shine treatment ... this is copy editing at its most fundamental and effective.

Some writers prefer to work on a double-spaced printout. Others work in colored pens and pencils, and text highlighters. Use whatever you feel comfortable with, and what's handy.

A day will come, however, when you're working with a publisher and typesetting who need to understand exactly what you mean.

Is copy editing the same as proofreading?

No. Proofreading can be done by any literate person, who will look ONLY for typographical, spelling and formatting errors. This person has no authority whatsoever to change, or suggest a change in, so much as a syllable. An editor edits; a proofreader looks for gaffs in the actual typing, typesetting and formatting.

Are there formal symbols used to indicate proofreading corrections, and editing changes?

Yes, and they're similar, though not quite the same. The major difference between them is that proofreading symbols are usually going to appear on the "galley proof" (see above), because the editing is finished and you're just looking for typos and formatting errors, in the absolutely final stage before publication. Therefore, proofreading symbols have to be "squeezy," because you'll be working on the galley. By contrast, copy editing symbols can afford to sprawl, be big and comparatively sloppy, because — at least traditionally! — you'd always be editing on a double-spaced copy. These days, of course, you're far more likely to be editing inside the computer, but you know how long it takes to slow down, stop and turn around the juggernaut of tradition. It'll be another century before it all changes. You can't afford to wait that long, so meet meet the industry halfway.

Here's the rule: When you're editing and proofing for yourself along, use any system you like. However, when you're marking up a manuscript for a publisher, typesetter or printshop, use the traditional proofing and editing markup system. You probably won't need to be completely familiar with the copy editing and proofreading symbols just yet, but let's take a look at them, for the sake of interest.

1) Insert [something] at this point. 2) Insert a comma here; 3) a semi-colon, 4) a full-colon. 5) Insert opening quotes and 6) insert closing quotes. 7) The copy editing symbol for "start a new paragraph and, 8) the proofreading symbol for start a new paragraph. 9) Insert a space (with the slash cutting in where the space should be), also 10) Insert a space. 11 Close up an unwanted space. 12. Insert a line (arrowhead points in between two lines that should be separated. 13) Enclosed "stet" meaning, "Leave as is," often used to cancel out an unwanted change. 14) Enclosed "cq" meaning, "spelling is fine, don't change this." 15) delete this blank line. 16) Capitalize this letter. 17) End of document. 18) Transpose (switch the order of) the words separated out by this wiggly line. 19) Insert a hyphen. 20) Insert an emrule. 21) Delete the unwanted letter which is struck out by the slash (this is the editing symbol). 22. Delete the unwanted word which is struck out by the horizontal line. 23) Delete unwanted letter (this is the proofreading symbol. 24. General "delete this and close up the resulting space" symbol, used in proofreading, not copy editing.

Now ... got your copy editing hat ready?

Turn page to Typographical errors...

Return to What the heck is copy editing, anyway?

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