Publishing Institute Post #4: Those Crazy Copy Editors.

30 Jul

Well? Does it?

See if you were a copy editor you’d know the answer to this. For the rest of us, myself included, questions like these leave us scratching our heads.

For those of us not trying to defend the honor of the mess that is the English Language, details like this seem kind of pointless. I mean, who reads a book and says “oh those words don’t have a hyphen. This work must be burned! BURNED I SAY!”


For your consideration: please throw all typo ridden narratives here.

Well believe it or not the answer is “more than you’d think.” While most people wouldn’t react in this way, it honestly doesn’t take a lot to see how important proper grammar is in writing. I mean, if I wrote like this:


Chances are I wouldn’t have any readers.

Now, if you want a less satirical point then consider this article, or this article.

See, grammar is important in how others perceive and receive your work. Anything laden with typos is guaranteed to be sent back with poor grades. For those of you aspiring to be a writer consider this: Rob Spillman, Head Editor of Tin House, once said, “I immediately throw out any manuscript with a typo on the first page. It simply means they didn’t care.”

Spillman Pen

Disclaimer: these are not actually his words, but imagine if they were… yikes…

Now, before you get out your stories and search for every small mistake, keep in mind that it’s also normal to have a few typos. As long as they aren’t too numerous, you’ll be okay in sending in your manuscript. After all, that’s what Copy Editors are for.


Cue the triumphant music.

While most don’t spend their lives painstakingly slaving over every detail, there are some that make a living from it and enjoy it! Well.. maybe enjoy isn’t the right word, but it’s darn close.

The copy editor is a strange creature indeed. Armed with a keen eye for detail and a dictionary bigger than your head, these men and women charge valiantly into the untamed wilderness that is a newly acquired manuscript. As I described in my previous post, these are the editors that won’t compromise on quality. While they may discuss the occasional stylistic detail their job is, for the most part, set in stone.

What do I mean by that? I mean that, as of my last 2 weeks in this program, I learned just how important this book is to an editor:


In this reference material, which gets updated every so often, lies every stylistic and grammatical rule every Editor in American publishing must follow. It’s over 1000 pages long and chock full of information. Good news for you: it’s mostly available online here. Bad news for me: I still have to carry the physical copy.

So what does this mean for all that MLA and APA stuff we had to do in high school and undergrad? Well…


Yup, keep feeding that fire.

This is not to say those styles are useless. In the world of academia, and even some professional careers, they are still quite relevant. Some publishing houses even use of those styles. However, most will stick to Chicago Style.

For those of you wondering where to begin, here are a few things I gathered from the wonderful Alice Levine.
(no not this one. I meant this one.)

  1. Never forget the Oxford Comma. (I want to eat ice cream, chocolate, and oranges.)
  2. Get your possessive pronouns right. (Hers, His, Its.)
  3. It’s = It is. (Correct: It’s my birthday.) (Wrong: I want to touch it’s fur.)
  4. Gray is American. Grey is European.
  5. For words like the one above, if you spell it one way, keep it consistent throughout the narrative.
  6. Hyphens are used only when it comes after the subject. (Correct: That jerk is anal-retentive) (Wrong: What an anal-retentive jerk.)
  7. Learn the difference between the En-Dash and Em-Dash. Hint: it’s not just the length of the dash.
  8. Keep a style sheet for terms, places, and names. It’ll help you stay consistent.
  9. Only capitalize titles if they are attached to a name. (Correct: Senator Jane) (Wrong: Jane the Senator)
  10. Commas are always confusing. Try not to overuse them.

Mind you these are only a few rules. The Chicago Manual of style has so many different laws and regulations that sometimes even a copy editor feels burnt out. However, if you stick to these few at first, and try not to misspell anything, you’ll be one leg ahead of anyone who doesn’t know/care.

As for the heavy lifting, be sure to trust in your copy editor. Yes, the acquisitions editor may have given you the deal but it’s the copy editor’s job to make sure yours doesn’t get thrown into the fire pile.


Exhibit 1. A.K.A. Me a year ago.

Copy editors are a wonderful sort and deserve far more credit for your favorite author’s novels than we may realize. Thanks to them our printed words aren’t a bastion of typos and grammatical nonsense.


So what kinds of editing experience do you all have? Do you use the Chicago manual or are you set in the MLA/APA ways? Knowing most of you, the process of editing is a glorious yet painful thing to experience. If so how do you get through it?

Leave a comment below. Otherwise, until next time.


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4 responses to “Publishing Institute Post #4: Those Crazy Copy Editors.

  1. Sarah Evans

    July 31, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I’ve nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award because I find your blog thought-provoking and inspiring.

    If you choose to accept, here’s what you need to do:
    1. Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
    2. Announce your win with a post. Make sure to post a link back to me as a ‘thank you’ for the nomination.
    3. Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
    4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.
    5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

    Rule #6, whether you accept or not, is to keep being awesome. ❤

    • writemindedrazo

      July 31, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      I appreciate the award!
      I don’t think I’ll be able to give it the attention it needs though. Nevertheless I am flattered.
      Thanks a whole bunch!

  2. britamoore

    August 31, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    BURN CHICAGO STYLE! AP STYLE FTW!!!! (jk) (#journalistproblems) (I realize I’m a month late in reading this)


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