How to get the right copy editor
July 5, 2012 9:54 PM   Subscribe

I need a copy editor. What questions should I ask, how much should I expect to pay, and how can I make certain to prepare the ms so that I get the most from the copy editor?

I have a book contract. Yay! Alas, unlike my previous book contract this one does not come with a copy editor, so not so yay. So I shall have to spend my own money on hiring one: I have some leads on possible editors, but I am not sure what questions I should be asking to make certain I get the right one. Nor do I have much of a sense for what I should expect to pay as the rates I keep seeing vary so widely. Obviously, I would like to cut down on costs where possible so if there are tricks to preparing the MS for a copy editor, I'd love to know about them. (It's an academic book in English and I am in North America.)
posted by lesbiassparrow to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to get the most bang for your copy editing buck is to give the copy editor the cleanest MS you can. Don't pay someone else to fix stuff you can catch yourself.

For US rates, the Editorial Freelancers Association is the gold standard. You can list your job there for free as well. I can't speak to rates in Canada.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 PM on July 5, 2012

Do you want to provide a hard copy of the manuscript or do you want to provide an electronic version?

I charge $30-$40 an hour for copy editing depending on the job. I do much of it on screen, but for something like that I would prefer hard copy double-spaced with a wide margin on the right to give me space for notes. Most of the work I do requires a medium copy edit -- rewriting of sentences to avoid the passive voice, ensuring correct spelling is employed and correct word use (e.g. effect/affect).

The most important thing I need to know is the word/page count and the deadline. I usually do three passes (unless something is sent back and I'm asked to go over major rewrites again). I ask the author/editor if they want me to rewrite clunky sentences/passive voice or simply query it. Other than that, I just need a sample of the writing so I can provide as accurate a quote as I'm able. I am also a fact checker, so I ask if I should run facts as well, if I'm not already expected to do it.

There are a lot of us freelancers, so there may be different expectations from others.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:41 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, EFA is a good guide for rates. My minimum is $30/hr., more if it's not fairly clean.

My number one recommendation is to go into it with clear expectations of what the term "copy edit" really means. I have had people ask me for a "light proofread" when in fact they really need a pretty heavy copy edit (and then they're shocked/hurt if I quote them a higher rate). Giving a prospective editor a writing sample is highly recommended.

In addition to making your ms. as clean as you can, it can really help if you can submit a style sheet with any specialized names, terms, etc. that you've used, so that the editor can check those for consistency straight off the bat, without having to query or verify them independently.
posted by scody at 11:06 PM on July 5, 2012

I charge $40 an hour and am turning down clients.

Things that decrease the number of hours I have to bill include:

Preparing the document in docx/odt with appropriate styles.

Using headings to delineate section breaks.

Not leaving superfluous inline comments,

Having an idea in mind of standards for things like spaces after full stop and the Oxford comma and then sticking to them.

expect to pay for about 0.25 hours of editing time per page,
posted by 256 at 12:19 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

He's UK-based, but this guy does an excellent job of explaining the stages in preparing the MS, and related issues (such as expectations) that will affect the both price and the final version.
posted by Prof Iterole at 12:26 AM on July 6, 2012

Some of us charge by the word, so bear that in mind.

I agree with what 256 says about how to prepare the document. Being quick to reply when questions are asked about style issues is also very helpful when I am working with something.

If you don't know, find out how to work with Track Changes once you have it back rather than having to ask.

If there is a style guide for the publisher you are going with, find out what it is and send a link or pdf or whatever.

Make sure the person you go with has good credentials and references, and is in the US or experienced with US English (e.g. I am in the UK but have evidence of working in both).

Good luck!
posted by LyzzyBee at 3:27 AM on July 6, 2012

Seconding checking with the style expectations of your publisher. This may include rules on notes/bibliography. If not, the discipline you're working in probably has a usual way of referencing. Check what this is. Then check your notes. And then your references. Then check them again. For me, notes are the thing that take so long when I'm working on academic papers -- checking citations are correct, ensuring page numbers are laid out correctly (and sometimes if they are even correct), and that publication details are all there. Just making sure your notes are in good order should save loads of time for your copy editor.
posted by bwonder2 at 4:02 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually charge a fixed rate for editorial work (I'll quote per 250-word page or per word, depending on the client), although I will quote different fixed rates depending on how much work the author expected/the manuscript needs. A lot of copy editors work under this structure as well. So one way to control costs is to work with an editor who is willing to quote you a flat rate for the project after you give them a sample and come to an understanding about your expectations/needs.

One thing that might help knock a little off the price is to fix your citations to match the publisher's preferred style guide, to the best of your abilities. The copy editor may still find little niggling things to correct in your references, but for goodness' sake, don't make them change all the article titles from sentence case to caps/lowercase or make them look up a bunch of missing information from incomplete citations. You can also, on your own, double-check to make sure everything you cite in the text is in your list of references and that the works in the list of references are actually cited in the book.

As far as questions to ask, the basic ones would be how many years of experience, what type of experience, and how many books in your particular field have they done. Your ideal editor will be someone who has some related academic background and has edited many books in your field (or at least in the same rough quadrant of academia, such as "social sciences"), and who has also worked extensively with one of the major academic presses. Google their name in Google Books to see if they have been thanked by the authors they've worked with (this is more indicative for academic books than other fields of editing where authors don't automatically write multiple pages of acknowledgments).
posted by drlith at 5:39 AM on July 6, 2012

I'm a professional copy editor, though I work mainly with business and literary clients. You don't say where you're located or what field the book is in, but make sure you get a professional book editor -- one who has done work in the field you're writing about. Depending on where you are, there may be an association you can get leads from. Also ask your publisher if they can recommend somebody, and make sure whoever you get has a copy of the publisher's house style. Last piece of advice is to get a guaranteed quote for the work, spelling out exactly what you're getting. This protects you and your editor.
posted by Shoggoth at 7:08 AM on July 6, 2012

If you're doing electronic files, ask your editor whether Word or PDF files are preferred. If I am given the choice, I like Acrobat markup more than Track Changes.
posted by catlet at 8:15 AM on July 6, 2012

If it's technical/specialist material, then you may need to pay more. (That said, I did technical training materials and I took a lower fee because I essentially got to receive the training as a bonus.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on July 6, 2012

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