I just got my copyedits back. Now what?
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
You’ve been waiting patiently for this moment, and now it’s here. Your copyedits are back! This is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking parts of the editing process. It can also be the most emotionally fraught, so it should be approached with a certain amount of care.
In this post, I’m going to show you what to do when you get your copyedits back from me.
Get in the right headspace.
It is paramount when receiving edits to be in an open-minded, receptive mindset. If you are feeling downtrodden, combative, or just one piece of straw away from having your back broken, then I highly recommend waiting a few hours or even an entire day to look at your edits. You don’t have to be in the best mood ever, but you do need to be in at least a neutral place where innocuous comments won’t crush your spirit.
Here’s the thing: Getting edited almost always hurts a bit. And this is especially true if this is your first time working with a copyeditor. Nobody likes to say this aloud, but we all think that we’ve done a superb job, that these manuscripts we’ve worked on so hard for so long are near perfection, and the editor will only have to make a handful of minor changes. This is not reality. You’re going to see a lot of red ink (so to speak) on almost every page. Almost nobody actually writes as cleanly as they think they do—that’s why editors still have jobs. Prepare your heart to see a lot more corrections than you’re expecting.
All that being said, it’s perfectly normal to have a negative knee-jerk reaction when you first see your edits. It’s normal to be angry or annoyed or even embarrassed. It’s normal to think that your copyeditor was too picky or didn’t understand your voice or ruined your entire book.
When all these feelings almost inevitably bubble up, stop and take a nice, deep breath. Then remember these things:
As your copyeditor, I’m here to help you. I’m not trying to tear your book down, and my edits aren’t a judgment on the quality of your writing overall. My edits are to help your book be the best it can be.
You hired me for my expertise and advice because you wanted a professional to look at your manuscript. My edits are backed by experience, education, and various reference books, and I do not make them lightly. I am not changing your manuscript willy-nilly on a whim.
You are still in charge of your book. Let’s say that again because it’s really important: You are still in charge of your book. Your name goes on the cover, so you get final say no matter what edits I suggest. You can ignore all of the edits if that’s what your heart desires.
Now that your mental preparation is taken care of, let’s move on to the next step.
Read the copyedit documents in the right order.
Since I send four documents—cover letter, style sheet, redlined manuscript, and clean manuscript—when I return your copyedits, there can be a bit of confusion about which order is the best order to read them in. Some of these documents might even be outright ignored.
Here’s the recommended order:
The cover letter is a bird’s eye view of the entire copyedit. It will give a brief overview of the kinds of edits I made in the text, especially overarching changes or changes I made repeatedly. This helps prepare you for exactly what you’ll see when you open up the manuscript, which helps mitigate the shock of the edits a little bit.
The style sheet I send along with your edited manuscript is a detailed roadmap of all the info to keep track of in your story. (I have a more in-depth post on style sheets in the works. Stay tuned!) You’ll want to take a glance at it before you go through your manuscript, especially looking at all the place and character names to make sure they’re spelled the way you prefer. Most likely we’ve addressed this in an email long before you receive your final edits, but it never hurts to check— even copyeditors occasionally make mistakes.
You’ll want to keep the style sheet open as you go through your edits. If you see something that makes you think “Why did she change this?” a quick peek at the style sheet can usually reveal the reason.
This is usually called “Insert Your Manuscript Title_copyedits” when I send it to you. This is the one with all the red ink, the one that’ll probably make you cringe. When you first open your redlined manuscript, I highly, highly recommend you read through it without accepting or rejecting any changes at first. However, I also do recommend you take notes, whether that’s with pen and paper or in a separate document. Make note of any suggestion that you’ll need some time to think over, any bright ideas you have about fixing a problem, or any edit that seems wrong or confusing.
I also recommend that you set the Review options on Word to Simple Markup during this stage. This shows where there are edits with vertical lines in the left margin, but doesn’t show the edits themselves, which is a lot less overwhelming for most writers. You’ll still be able to see all my comments this way, which will help you focus more on questions and explanations than every comma I’ve moved around.
Here’s how to do that:
I send a totally clean version of the manuscript—one with all comments deleted and changes accepted—to help you see what your manuscript would look like if I got my way with every change. This clean manuscript can help you visualize the effects of my edits more easily, rather than focusing on the changes themselves. If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to keep an edit, try pulling up the clean manuscript to see how it fits there. That can usually make up your mind one way or another.
Start working on the edits.
After your first read over the edited manuscript, be sure to give yourself some time to process any emotional reaction you might have had. This also gives you some time to mull over your notes from that first read-through. For some, this takes just a few hours, for others it takes a few days. Once you’re feeling a bit more neutral (or even excited) again, it’s time to put your gloves on and get elbow-deep into the edits.
I find it smoothest to go through your edits in passes. For the first pass, focus on accepting any edits that you instantly agree with. Ignore the edits you’d like to reject and the ones you’re unsure of for now.
In your second pass, you’ll likely find even more edits that you’re happy to accept, so go ahead and accept those. During this pass, also take a closer look at those edits you’re unsure of. Use the style sheet and clean manuscript to help you make a decision. Think about alternative ways you might achieve the desired effect, even if it means not using the exact wording I suggested. If you’re still uncertain, leave those tougher edits for the third pass.
In your third pass, you’ll finally deal with all the remaining edits, rejections and all. If you still don’t like an edit after seeing it three times, then you probably aren’t going to change your mind, so reject those edits now. Also make final decisions about all of the unsure edits you left in the second pass. At the end of this pass, you should be left with your version of a clean manuscript. Hooray!
Tips for your editing passes:
Keep the style sheet open, especially for your second and third pass, so you can easily find the reasoning for any edits that concern you.
Toggle between All Markup and Simple Markup as you go through each pass. All Markup can feel too busy, so Simple Markup helps rest the eyes and focus on comments rather than in-line edits.
Take a break between each pass. You want to give your brain some time to work on the edits in the background, but you also want to keep your eyes fresh so that you are seeing everything clearly. At least a full day works best, but you can do as little as overnight if you’re in a rush.
Keep a list of questions to ask. You’re most likely going to have questions about some of the edits I made. Don’t rely on your brain to remember them. Keep a list so that you can ask all of them when it’s time to follow up!
**Note: If you and I are doing cleanup edits together, then you don’t need to actually push the Accept and Reject buttons on the edits—I’ll take care of that for you! Instead, focus on replying to my comments and adding your own comments to any edits you want to reject. When you send the manuscript back to me, I’ll take care of everything for you.
Follow up with the editor.
Every edit I do comes with one hour of post-edit consultation. We can do this by email, text, chat, video call, or phone. (For anything besides email, please reach out and make an appointment first!) This is your chance to ask all those questions you had while you were reviewing the edits. Don’t be shy, ask away!
Do keep in mind that there is a time limit to this consultation. Since I work on various projects, I will likely forget the minor details of your manuscript before too long. (Sorry!) Please have your consultation within three weeks of receiving your copyedits. Otherwise I might be a bit less help than you’re hoping for.
The final step is feedback! Are you happy with your edits? Dissatisfied? Confused? It’s important to let me know how you feel after we’ve gone through the entire editing process together. If you’re dissatisfied or confused, I can work with you to resolve those issues. And if you’re happy, well, then I can stick your email in my "Compliments" folder to read when impostor syndrome strikes. Either way, your feedback is incredibly important to me, and I'd love to hear from you.
Do you have any lingering questions about how to tackle your copyedits? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can give you some answers!