One very common peeve that I often see out there, which always prompts great gnashing of my teeth, is when I see people rant (particularly in Amazon reviews), “What was the editor DOING!!! I found TWO TYPOS.” This is due to confusion about editing vs. copyediting.
Editing vs. copyediting
Just so’s we’re all clear:
In traditional publishing, the editor is the person who acquires the book for the publishing company. The editor then becomes like a project manager, shepherding the book through the publishing process.
Yes, this does usually involve some editing. But that is usually on the order of, “let’s beef up this plot arc,” “how about this title,” and “do you think you could get me some backstage passes to your concert? Please? My wife is a big fan.” The editor may point individual things out, but the editor is not spending their time correcting typos. Not their job!
There are also freelance developmental editors who help authors who help authors who are self-publishing or who want to improve their manuscript prior to pursuing traditional publishing.
Then there is a copyeditor, the person who is responsible for catching typos.
A copyeditor is the type of person who will point out to a police officer that the charge for speeding in a school zone is actually $75, not $50… while they are getting a ticket. They not only know more grammatical rules and alternate spellings than nearly anyone, but they LOVE IT. A copyeditor prays to whatever manual of style they personally believe in (and yes, there is more than one religion).
So it’s the copyeditor who is the one responsible for catching typos and small inconsistencies and factual errors. Not the editor.
Typos are ultimately an author’s responsibility
But before you go and amend the complaint to “What was the COPYeditor doing,” here’s how the editing and copyediting process works (actual process may vary, but this is one example):
- Author turns in manuscript.
- Editor suggests macro changes.
- Author turns in new manuscript.
- Goes to copyeditor.
- A fantastic copyeditor will catch nearly everything, or everything everything.
- First pass pages go to the author, who double-checks the copyeditor’s suggested changes.
- Now, here comes the fun part. Manuscript is assembled so that the line edits from the author, copyeditor, and editor are hopefully incorporated correctly. It’s a somewhat straightforward task, but sometimes new errors can enter the picture here.
- Author gets these second-pass pages, they try to catch any remaining (or introduced) errors, and once they sign off on them the book goes to press.
Hopefully by the time it’s gone from editor to copyeditor to first pass to person who knows where to second pass every error will have been found and corrected. Hopefully. But there are also opportunities for errors to creep into that process.
Oh, and for the record, before you start correcting typos on this blog, keep in mind that I have neither editor nor copyeditor. (But this blog is, in fact, outsourced to overseas typists. Not really.)
So when you do find a typo in a book, gloat! By all means gloat. Gloat gloat gloat. You found a typo and are officially smarter than the offending sentence. But don’t blame the poor editor!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!
Art: Leo Tolstoy by Nikolai Ge