Which publishers still pay for good copy editing?
January 23, 2023 6:43 AM   Subscribe

This post on the blue has spurred me to ask something I’ve wondered for a while. It seems like a number of publishers (of books, newspapers or other media) skimp on copy editing these days. As a former newspaper copy editor, I see many problems in writing that I didn’t see years ago, even in supposedly quality publications. So, where can I still find writing where copy editing is taken seriously?
posted by NotLost to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
The New Yorker.
posted by Melismata at 7:21 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]

The Atlantic had a great article on their copyediting process. I'm a copy editor for a medical journal, and I was very impressed (and envious) of it. So if they really follow this process, I'd say the Atlantic.
posted by FencingGal at 8:09 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Probably not what you're looking for, but Mathematical Sciences Publishers (full disclosure: I work there, but not as a copyeditor) provides very high quality copyediting for mathematical research journals.
posted by number9dream at 8:16 AM on January 23

The Harper-Collins strike has meant that they basically can't get copyeditors right now, so books currently in production are going to be... well, as good as their authors are at copyediting, and those are two separate skills. Otherwise, all the major SF publishers (which are the ones I'm familiar with) pay freelance copyeditors, and their quality... varies. But there's a multi-layer process in place to catch errors, so it mostly works.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:50 AM on January 23

I'm a copy editor. Most of my work is for indie authors; almost all of it is fiction. About 50% of my clients are traditionally published authors who got smart and have made hybrid careers for themselves where they maintain their NY pub contracts and also publish independently. So based on that output -- their tradpub books vs. their indiepub books, where I can pretty much compare apples to apples -- I'd say that high-quality indie publishing is doing a stellar job with copy editing these days. (Meaning, I've been completely unimpressed with what I see coming out of Big 5 publishing houses, at least in genre fiction.)

Also, there is plenty of low-quality indie publishing going on now, and I'm not talking about that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:04 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Most scholarly journals still do fairly thorough copy editing. The quality may go up with higher prestige, but even mid-tier science journals rarely publish content with obvious problems. The copy editing phase is often seen as slightly adversarial, because overzealous editing without domain expertise can mess things up, and also scientists can write terrible copy. This tension led to one of the best errata ever published:
As a result of an error at the Publisher, the term "frequentist" was erroneously changed to "most frequent" throughout the article. IOP Publishing sincerely regrets this error.

(Frequentism is a term of art, and a phrase like "under the frequentist interpretation" means something totally different from "under the most frequent interpretation".)
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:27 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]

Software companies should have an in-house team to impose house style and catch errors in the reams of electronic documentation that they generate.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:34 AM on January 23

I have worked as a documentation editor at a software company, and am now a writer in the same field, and... no, I would not say we generally do a good job of copy editing. If you're not impressed with mainstream books or newspapers, you will absolutely not be impressed with software docs.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:20 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I'm a copyeditor and I work for lots of traditional publishers—some pay better than others.

Remember that if you notice errors in a book, sometimes that is the fault of the proofreader or even an in-person editor after the copyeditor is done. Also, believe it or not, authors sometimes insist that edited changes get undone, despite being told why these changes are desirable or even necessary. I have once or twice requested that my name not appear anywhere in a published book because I didn't want people to think I'd made/missed all those errors.
posted by wisekaren at 2:16 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

To the last point:

I work in editorial at a publisher you have heard of. A Big Name Author (who you also probably have heard of) used a stylized form of punctuation in their nonfiction work. We corrected it early in the production process because how that punctuation was used is Not a Thing and reflected poorly on the author. Just days before we went to print, I was instructed by someone internal involved with a project at a high level to restore the error because it was that author’s style and their team was requesting it appear that way. I fought hard but ultimately was overruled and had to send the book to the printer with something like twenty-seven instances of the error in it. I was not happy.

That said, I hire copyeditors and proofreaders as a routine part of my job, and we pay decent money for it, especially for copyediting. I also often copyedit behind my copyeditors, not only to get another set of eyes on the work but because that’s my chance to weigh in on the project. On average our books have five sets of eyes on them, from submission to printer, and I take a lot of pride in making sure the books I work on are as close to error-free as possible. So there are at least some corners of the publishing world in which that work is still valued.
posted by timestep at 4:20 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]

From an anonymous user:
"HarperCollins books are definitely not going uncopyedited, or copyedited only by authors. There are many in-house employees who aren't in the union, and many employees who aren't eligible to be in the union (can of worms) and therefore can't legally go on strike. They've increased their copyediting workload significantly. A number of freelance copyeditors are willing to cross the picket line to continue freelancing or to become temps. Some have ongoing contracts that the union is asking workers to honor. There's a lot of pressure and stress on non-union workers, but the work is happening.

While I support the union, misinformation isn't helpful. It's also worth nothing that the union isn't discouraging people from buying HC books. @hcpunion on Instagram is the best source for updates and clarifications on what is or isn't desired by the union."
posted by travelingthyme at 4:56 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Ah, that's good to hear. My sources are authors, and the rumor mill is, well, what it always is.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:04 PM on January 23

I often work for a midlevel publisher who handles a lot of romance and women's fiction. I think they were recently bought by one of the big five like the Random Penguins, I can't remember, but they seem to be largely staying the same and using freelance copyeditors and proofreaders. Let me know if you want to be pointed in their direction. I used to work with a major travel guide publisher, and an outdoors/travel publisher, so I know there are still companies in that arena who care about editing. Amazon contracts out with freelancers for self-publishing authors who buy their editing/publishing packages. Obviously that would be pretty hit or miss, but there definitely are self-publishing authors who are being copyedited. If you're interested in a music magazine, memail me and I can point you to a magazine I CE and proof.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:55 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

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