What’s The Difference between Line Editing and Copy Editing?

What’s The Difference between Line Editing and Copy Editing?

You’ve finished your manuscript! Congratulations! This is an achievement. You can feel a ‘but’ coming along, can’t you? Well, here it is: finishing the manuscript is just the beginning.

Cristofer Jeschke

Try not to be too precious over a manuscript a line editor will put you straight!

Having written a book, whatever happens next is an amazing thing. Sometimes we can even get a little carried away by how clever we are at having come this far. We can have fallen in love with the concept, the characters, the narrative but will others feel the same? This is where some long, hard, and objective evaluation will be invaluable.

Red ink, embarrassment and being fired

For years I kept an article in my desk drawer that is a reminder at just how important objective and accurate editing should be. I was writing for a significant national newspaper. To be fair, I had just had a car accident and wasn’t quite myself. However, that is not an excuse. I submitted a piece without giving it my full attention. The paper had a brand-new editor and she sharpened her pen on my work. I remember pulling the article from the brown envelope and feeling my face almost burst with embarrassment. The piece was covered in red ink. Her comments were scathing, and I am ashamed to say that I lost my job!

A manuscript takes time and patience

I kept that article for years in the desk drawer to remind me every time I opened it. I never read the comments again; they were seared into my brain. I learned a profound lesson that day and I pass that story on as a warning. Let’s return to the wonderful feeling of having finished the first copy of a manuscript. In your euphoria DO NOT SEND this manuscript to anyone – promise me!

Randalyn Hill

Put it away for a few days, preferably a week, and then return to it as a reader. When you have solved any nasty surprises and undertaken the appropriate rewrites, that’s when it’s time to think about copy editing. Let me say now, this is called line editing too but let me explain the differences further down the page.

A copy editor is special

Their aim is to improve the standard (as appropriate). What their job entails is ensuring that your book is highly readable. Don’t take that as an insult. We can all get wrapped up in the narrative. It’s like thinking a thought and then saying, ‘Shall we do that on Saturday?’ Your listener says, ‘Do what?’ We had the thought but failed to communicate all of it. Your intention didn’t match the listener’s understanding; trust me, it’s easily done!

A copy edit will ensure that your book is clear and coherent

A copy editor will pick up inconsistencies. One minute your character’s eyes are brown, further along with the book they are hazel! Your sixteenth-century king might have eaten peanut butter; that would be factually incorrect and would pluck a reader out of the imaginative world you have created.

Learn to love your copy editor

I do suggest you hire a copy editor once you have sorted out the first overview. She or he will come to your book completely fresh. They will be objective as they have no investment in the book as an author has. What will a copy editor look at? The list is pretty standard wherever you look. In the main, a copy editor will check spelling and grammar. They check whether you have used appropriate capitalisation. They conform to accepted standards, not the way we use language as individuals. Of course, if you are writing a book like, ‘How late it was, how late’ by James Kelman none of this is appropriate. His novel published in 1994 is written I a Scottish dialect. It is a stream of consciousness novel where, in effect, anything goes. This is an exception to the rule and it’s worth explaining your intent as you hand over the manuscript.

Copy editors love detail

In addition, a copy editor will see how often you have repeated particular words, and if that is appropriate. Dialogue tags are important. They are the phrases that come between dialogue. Do revise them on that link. If you use numbers, they need to be in a specific format. In addition, you might have switched your point of view (POV) or even the tense accidentally. Then of course there are things like locations, descriptions, blocking, and so on.

Yes, this all sounds very ‘nit picky’ but it’s essential work and the copy editor’s bread and butter

You employ a copy editor to work on the smallest of points to prevent the reader’s tripping over consistent spelling mistakes. What you don’t want is for your reader to become distracted or frustrated by being pulled away from the narrative.

Develop a good relationship with a copy editor and you will really benefit. Think of them as being like a personal trainer. They will push your writing further than you thought possible.

A line editor is a curious but essential beast

Copy editing and line editing are often interchanged but there are some subtle differences between these two roles. Let’s make it clear here and now. A line editor will look at how your writing flows and its actual content. If you thought a copy editor was tough, your line editor drills down even further into how you write. Their focus is on style. Their job is not to look for spelling errors etc. that should have already been completed. They will point out inconsistencies, for example in point of view but with a slightly different emphasis. They will offer more comments and detail about how the writing might be further developed. It is all about creative content.

Karly Santiago

Yes, on my initial read I might be gnashing my teeth at comments from a line editor but once I have calmed down, had a cup of tea then put on my objective hat I can see where they are positioned. It’s important to see this kind of edit as a learning experience. Even as a writer with 30+ years of experience I always use a line editor. You’re never too old to learn, right? If we approach our writing with an open mind we can improve tremendously. Those red squiggles on my badly written article have served me well.

If you need a line editor or a copy editor, then organise a time to chat with us. We don’t bite as we understand just how incredible it is to be entrusted with someone’s work. Make that appointment right now.

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