Ediquette: Should I edit my manuscript before sending it to my copyeditor?
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
You’ve done your developmental edits, perhaps even multiple drafts of them. You’ve deleted characters, changed settings, adjusted the timeline, and rearranged scenes. You’ve sent your manuscript out to beta readers and incorporated their feedback. Basically, you’ve written so many drafts of this book that your head is practically spinning.
And then you hire a copyeditor, and the first thing they ask is if you’ve done any copyedits yourself yet.
Isn’t that the copyeditor’s job? Do you really have to edit a book yourself if you’re going to pay a professional to do it?
You don’t have to, but you should really self-edit your manuscript before sending it to a professional editor.
Self-editing beforehand saves time.
The fewer errors in the manuscript, the sooner your editor will be able to get it back to you.
Errors take time to fix.
Each time the copyeditor finds an error, they must delete the error and then type in the corrected word or punctuation. If the error can be fixed in multiple ways, the copyeditor must create a new comment to ask you which way you would prefer it be handled. If the error is one the editor doesn’t know how to fix, then they have to take even more time to look it up in their style manual or dictionary, or even to ask colleagues for assistance if it’s a real doozy. Each error left in your manuscript adds minutes, perhaps even hours, to the time it will take to complete the copyedit.
Error-filled manuscripts need more careful reading and/or more passes.
Your copyeditor will read your manuscript word by word, at a painstakingly slow pace. That is a basic part of the job. When a manuscript contains many errors, the copyeditor actually needs to slow down even more while reading. Reading too fast can result in missing errors. Alternatively, the editor may elect to do extra passes on the manuscript to make sure that as many errors as possible have been caught. This adds several more hours to the project completion time.
Fixing many errors is more taxing on the copyeditor.
Most editors can only get about four to six good editing hours in any given day. Copyediting especially requires a lot of decision making and problem solving. You’ve probably heard of decision fatigue. It’s a phenomenon where a person’s decision making ability dwindles the more choices the person has to make throughout the day. Each error in a manuscript is a decision for the copyeditor. The more errors there are, the quicker the copyeditor tires out, and the sooner they have to quit for the day. This means that an error-filled manuscript could require several extra days, if not weeks, to be completed.
Self-editing beforehand saves money.
The more editing you’ve done yourself, the less editing your copyeditor will need to do. (In general.) This can save you a good chunk of cash.
Fixing errors takes time, and time is money.
As mentioned above, copyediting an error-filled manuscript takes a lot more time than copyediting one with only a small or moderate number of errors. And whether your copyeditor charges by the hour, by the page, or by the word, manuscripts with more errors are more expensive to edit.
Sometimes you can get discounts.
There are a fair number of copyeditors out there who give discounts to authors with clean manuscripts. By taking some extra time to check your work once more, you could end up paying less than you expected.
Self-editing beforehand means more accurate editing.
No editor can guarantee perfection or a completely error-free manuscript. However, copyeditors still strive to catch as many errors as possible. Every silly typo that the author could have caught distracts the copyeditor from other, harder to spot errors.
This is best illustrated with a couple of images. Take a look at the kanji characters below, and try to spot the "errors"—i.e. the ones with gray outlines:
There are four characters with gray outlines in this image. They might be a little hard to see, but you can find them without too much trouble, right?
Now take a look at these:
This time, along with the ones that have gray outlines, we have four more with red outlines. These represent major, obvious errors like typos and misspellings. Your eye was probably drawn to the red ones first, and they were perhaps even a bit distracting as you hunted for the gray outlines.
But there's one more error I introduced in the second image that you might have missed while you were looking at the more obvious errors. Can you find it? Take a look at this next image for the answer:
One of the characters is missing a line! You can probably guess the point I'm about to make: The more obvious errors are left in a text, the more distracted the editor will be fixing those and the higher chance they could miss a sneaky one like this.
If you take some extra time to get rid of all—or at least most of—the big errors, then your copyeditor can focus on finding the little ones throughout your manuscript. This will give you a more accurate copyedit.
But I don’t have the time/inclination/brain power to edit my manuscript again.
I totally understand. After working on a book so hard for so long, we sometimes just feel done. In this case, as a courtesy to your copyeditor, at least run your word processor’s spellchecking function before sending in your manuscript. While it’s not perfect, and it’ll give you false positives and false negatives sometimes, chances are it’ll flag at least a couple of things that you can fix really quickly. Your copyeditor will appreciate it.
Do you have any questions about editor etiquette (“ediquette”) you’d like to see on the blog? If so, send an email to email@example.com and I’ll try to address your question in a future post!