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The five Cs of copyediting - and a free offer

What IS copyediting and why would you need it? Great questions. Copyediting elevates prose by focusing on what Lorna Partington Walsh calls the five Cs of copyediting. And as for why you would need it, that's something you can only know by experience, which is why Lorna is making a generous offer to Anna Caig Comms mailing list subscribers. 

Lorna, a writer and editor based in Sheffield, is currently the Lead Editor at Best Seller Publishing and a regular editor for Mascot Books. She has also worked with Valley Press, Darling Magazine, various nonprofits and social enterprises, and many indie writers. Lorna's website is here.

Lorna is offering a FREE sample edit to the first three Anna Caig Comms mailing list subscribers who contact her - see the end of the post for details.

The 5 Cs of Copyediting

Correctness: Perhaps the most obvious of the copyediting tasks, correctness is all about spelling, punctuation, grammar and usage. Some of this stuff can be picked up by bog-standard software (e.g. Microsoft Word Editor) or high-end apps, such as Grammarly, but software has trouble with nuance. In fiction particularly, the human copy editor has a better chance of understanding the author's sometimes quirky punctuation preferences and word choices (e.g. dialect). A good copy editor can distinguish between a style choice and an outright error, and suggest fixes that work for both author and reader. This task also includes some basic fact-checking, such as the spelling of the names of real people/businesses/products/events, etc.

Clarity/Coherence: For the most part, this task is about readability and flow. Sometimes the problem is as simple as a misplaced modifier or an ambiguous pronoun, but sometimes entire sentences, paragraphs, or concepts are unclear to the lay reader (i.e. the copy editor!). Hopefully this task doesn't slip into content editing, but a copy editor will query an author if there are gaps that must be filled to ensure the reader understands.

Craft: This task is about the quality of language used. How powerful are the verbs? How appropriate are the adjectives? How sharp is the dialogue? A copy editor looks at critical word choices and phrasing to ensure the prose is memorable and cliché-free. This C also includes looking at the variety and effectiveness of sentence structure and the balance of passive/active language.

Concision: This task is about repetition and redundancy. Some authors like to ensure their reader "gets it" by repeating ideas/words/phrases a little too often, which can make some readers feel patronised. Redundancy is another issue, especially for less experienced writers, and I can usually cut 2-5% of the word count by eliminating "filler" words or sentences. This task can often upset an author who worries that their voice has been tinkered with. However, my philosophy is quality, not quantity! Tighter prose does not mean dumbing down; it means more powerful prose and a stronger authorial voice.

Consistency: This is the most technical of the copy editor's tasks. This involves A) ensuring the manuscript follows standard publishing styles (set out by New Hart's Rules in the UK or Chicago Manual of Style in the US), and B) that the manuscript is internally consistent (meaning that the author's particular style choices are applied throughout and there are no text contradictions). This may sound nitpicky, but inconsistency can seriously undermine the credibility of the prose!

Lorna is offering a free 2,000-word edit to the first three Anna Caig Comms mailing list subscribers who request one. To apply, simply fill in Lorna's contact form here and submit a request that mentions Anna Caig.

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