Thoughts on Copy Editors

Every published author will tell you that a great copy editor is a gift from God, and have horror stories about those more in Satan’s camp.  I’ve had both.  Now that I’m busy with the editorial process, the importance of great copy editing has become even more apparent.

There’s a big range of capabilities different copy editors bring to their roles. Some are basically proofreaders, who concentrate on typos, spelling, punctuation, format screw-ups, like a bad break in the middle of a sentence, things that are objectively incorrect.  But beyond that, there’s a lot of room for thoughtful interpretation.  Especially for things like commas, colons, semi-colons, quote marks, dashes, and so on. These can have a big impact on style and meaning.  The copy editor has to understand the author’s intent, his or her distinctive voice, to know how to properly suggest how these guideposts should be arranged.

Great copy editors also delve into grammar, usage, syntax, continuity, fact checking, historical accuracy, repetitive or poor word choice, character consistency, even unintended pejoratives  – many of the things developmental editors also attend to. This means they have to have a good understanding of the author’s unique style, not only to catch and correct tiny errors, but to maintain a clear understanding of the storyline itself.

A gestalt on the work as a whole.

A not-so-good copy editor is either someone who just misses too many goof-ups, or worse, one who conforms to strict definitions of formal rules.  When I was in advertising, I sent some copy to a bigwig for approval.  After checking for technical accuracy, he turned it over to his admin, who was a former English teacher.   I got it back all marked up with a red pen.  She took out all my contractions, re-attached the split infinitives, and after making sure there were no incomplete sentences, ganged them up into long paragraphs.  Thus taking all the life out of the prose.

I thanked her for her help, and sent her a huge stack of long-form brochures asking her to apply her magic, and never heard from her again.

My favorite copy editors either come from journalism or advertising.  Those professions teach you how to keep the writing from straying too far from acceptable standards, but also that style must be a flexible thing, who appreciate the whole and do not distort the author’s voice by fussing over irrelevant particulars, or imposing rules that were first established in the eighteenth  century.

I work with a lot of beta readers who I ask to ignore typos and misspellings, hoping to keep their attention on the greater work.  This is easy for me, since I’m the world’s worst proofreader.  And utterly dependent on great copy editors, who are the lifeguards in the narrative stream.

Chris Knopf is an author of mysteries and thrillers, and a co-publisher at The Permanent Press.

Doris Ex Machina, Part the Last

Adelina here. I am sorry. I look at this blog and realize I have not been keeping up. You would think, being dead, that I would have plenty of time to blog, but it is not so very simple. Just because you are dead doesn’t mean the beets don’t need to be planted, the butter doesn’t need to be churned, the laundry doesn’t need to be beaten on a rock. 

And I am still needing to tell you about Romania’s Got Talent. My cousins and I were deciding to perform a scene from Medea by Euripedes. It was many days that we were rehearsing. So many days that Stela had to sew the costume for my dear cousin Doris more than one time. I am not one to gossip, but my dear cousin Doris was gaining the weight. Iulia says Doris is in the way of the family. But of course, that is impossible. Doris is not married.

But we were wanting to win Romania’s Got Talent. We decided to hide Doris in the back if it became necessary. But it was not becoming necessary. Because, just when it was our turn to perform, I was finding my cousin Vlad, dead on the floor in Doris’s dressing room.

But the show must be going on. I was leaving the body of my dear cousin, on the floor, in a pool of sticky wet blood. I went on stage, and there is so much more I want to be telling you, but Vlad’s life was coming to an end, and also was our time on Romania’s Got Talent.

Just as it was seeming that our performance would be running out of time without a proper ending, my cousin Doris was descending from the rafters in a dragon-born chariot. We did not the winning, but the audience cheered.


I must to be honest here and tell you that we will be missing Doris when she escaped in the chariot, Bucharest’s finest in hot pursuit. We would also be missing Vlad who was carried out on a gurney. It was perhaps the reason I would be giving up the show business and emigrating to the United States of America. Still, we were excited by our appearance on Romania’s Got Talent and greatly enjoyed the after-party.


Adelina is the pretty one. She was born in Bucharest in 1887. 

She died of tuberculosis in Brooklyn in 1936.

Being dead, Adelina has time to blog.