The Copy Editor

cartoon owl reading a book - illustrating an article for writers about copy or line editors WHAT DOES A COPY EDITOR DO?

The copy editor, sometimes called a line editor, carries out a close concentrated inspection of the text,

They seek out the ‘smaller’ errors such as grammatical, spelling, typing errors and incorrect wording etc.

Some writers write very fast while others are much slower, and perhaps more methodical workers.

They may stop and correct a lot of errors as they go along, regardless of flow.

There is no right or wrong way.

It really depends on what works for you and you will find this out through experimentation and experience.

I myself am a very fast writer and I have noticed that the faster I write the more errors I make.

This is because if I am typing quickly then it means that my writing is going well and I am loath to stop and fix errors in case I ‘forget’ the next part of the story.


This should make more sense to you if I explain that when my writing is going really well and I am in flow, it can feel like I am in a kind of hypnotic trance in which I must race to type the story.

On a very good day, when the force is with me, a story can take shape in my mind faster than my fingers can type – and I do type fast.


I do use a spell-checker, although over reliance on a spell-checker is not advised.

It won’t save you from every error, although it is a tremendous help.

You see, unlike the copy editor, the spell-checker has yet to be invented that can fully understand context.

A spell checker doesn’t know the difference between a character using incorrect grammar correctly in the dialogue, and incorrect grammar used incorrectly by the narrator.

The spell-checker can also replace an incorrectly spelled word with a correctly spelled version that is entirely the wrong word – spelled correctly or not.

It can also allow you to leave a typo in if it is correctly spelled. For example, as I wrote this article I typed the word tying instead of typing and the spell checker did not notice it.

Man with a laptop sitting on bench illustrating post on the role of the copy editorEDIT, CHECK AND RE-CHECK

Ideally, the task of copy editing the book isn’t just performed once. Manuscripts can change many times if the writer is focused on improving it.

Errors corrected in one read-through, or line edit can be replaced with brand new mistakes as a result of these very corrections.

This can be frustrating for the writer, though this is far from being a bad thing, as it simply underlines the need to check and re-check.

With a conventional publisher this re-checking can go on for weeks, or months until the writer is presented with the final edit.


The final edit represents the very last opportunity to correct any mistakes before the book is sent for publication.

I can remember finding this thought terrifying. What if there was a massive mistake in my work that I and nobody else had spotted?

Like most writers, prior to publication of my novel I worried a lot.

What if I tripped over at the launch, what if everybody hated the book, what if I opened my mouth to read at a reading and no words came out?

My worries had worries but this ‘massive mistake worry’ was the biggest of them all for me.

I didn’t really feel safe until I read the reviews and I felt reassured by the fact that if there had been errors then the reviewers would have drawn attention to them.

A lot of attention – so check carefully.

All the best


For more about self-publishing click here.

Click here to learn more about the editing process.

a walker on a Galway shore line illustrating an article for writers about copy or line editors



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