Monday, June 8, 2009

The Copy Editor and the Four Cs

Have you ever wondered what all those different kinds of editors do?

Recently I picked up a book titled The Copy editor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications and learned that copy editors look after the four Cs. Being a red-blooded American girl, I immediately thought, "What do cut, color, clarity and carat have to do with editing?"

I could make an argument for clarity, but not the rest, so I read further and learned the copy editor has a different for Cs: clarity (of course), coherency, consistency, and correctness.

That's nice, but what does it mean? Does the copy editor care if you kill off Uncle Joe in chapter three and resurrect him in chapter twenty?

Probably, but the copy editor's main goal is to guide the author to an error-free product with respect to editorial style and language. Editing for language primarily consists of ensuring proper grammar is employed throughout, but also includes other language concerns such as eliminating cliches. Do your verbs meander through the tenses without rhyme or reason? Are your participles dangling? Do your characters lay down for a nap and lie items on the table? If so, then you can appreciate and benefit from the copy editor's expertise.

But what is editorial style?

Editorial style covers consistency in areas where more than one correct option exists. For example, 30 percent, 30%, and thirty percent all mean the same thing. No matter which way you write it, readers will understand. Your copy editor will not only ensure that your treatment of language around percentages is consistent throughout your book, but also that it matches the publisher's stated editorial style.

Most publishers have a stated editorial style covering such topics as hyphenation (and ellipses, em and en dashes), capitalization (copy or Xerox, tissue or Kleenex), abbreviations (USA or U.S.A.?), numbers (500 or five hundred), money ($5 or five dollars), time (six AM, six a.m., 6:00 A.M., or six in the morning). The editorial style ensures all books from a given publisher share a particular style, ensures consistency across products.

Is there a repeated error in this article? Which is correct - copyeditor, copy-editor or copy editor? And, which editor cares about Uncle Joe's demise?

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

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  1. I'm going with copy editor.

    Who cares about Uncle Joe? Is there such a thing as a content editor? If so, that person.


    Still love the blog!

  2. Great article, as always. Keep 'em coming, and we'll keep devouring them! :)

  3. Great post, Char. I learn more from this blog than any other!

  4. I don't know. I need a copy editor. Great post.

  5. My daughter had done both copy editing and content editing. She says both have different challenges and need an editor who can protect the author's style, publisher style and the English language.

    Good ones are worth their weight in gold. They make the author look better and the book shine. But the ones who challenge your actual research, well, they bring on thoughts of fictional murder. LOL!

  6. Nice article, Char. Very helpful information.

  7. I'm not quite sure what you mean with this post. Do you mean that a copy editor looks for consistency? and/or do you mean that the copy editor looks for mistakes with commas etc. as opposed to a content editor, who is mainly concerned with the story?
    Blssings, Star

  8. Excellent and detailed article, Char - clarified some things for me. :)

    The Old Silly From Free Spirit Blog

  9. I care about Uncle Joe's demise, or more accurately, his resurrection. Now there's a story.

    Good post.

    Straight From Hel

  10. sooooo... if the story is great, the POV good, and the over writing stellar, then the copy editor will fix itty bitty "had planned" and "planned" issues, right?


  11. Good article, Char. An editor who protects an author's voice is invaluable.

    Betty Gordon


  12. I have bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.


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