Line editing and copy editing

The Beggar’s Opera is out for copy-editing but I’ve just spoken to the editor involved and learned that it may be line edited too. All of this is new to me, as a debut author, so I thought I’d explain the difference.

The copy editor looks at the big picture. Are there plot holes? Does the story have gaps in it? This can certainly happen when parts of a manuscript are cut and pasted (as mine was in the last round of revisions, where a  whole lot of chapters were moved around) but it can happen at the best of times.

I realized in about my twentieth draft, for example, that I had my Cuban inspector and pathologist meeting in the pathologist’s office in the medical towers, but had them both leaving the police station.  Interestingly, not a single one of my external readers had picked up the error.

That’s the kind of stuff the line editor does. In fact, the editor I spoke with said that he starts editing from the moment he starts reading. If he was to read the whole book first and then circles back, he felt he might miss something important structurally. Which I thought was quite interesting, and the opposite of what I might have expected.

By contrast, the copy editor is looking for typos, grammatical errors, and redundancies. My editor is trying to get the story as crisp and clean as possible, while keeping things in my voice (and those of my characters). At the end of the process, I imagine copy-editing and line-editing will merge, but I’ll very interested to see what changes he makes.

(The great news is that he loves the book and is already telling friends about it. Fingers crossed he has lots of friends!)

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3 Responses to Line editing and copy editing

  1. In my experience: Next are the Galley and then the Printer’s Proof — lots of room for brand-new errors to be created! For the galley, the text is formatted for the printed page, which can cause line breaks, dumped words or parts of words. That should be all fixed up for the printer’s proof, but there can be leftovers. For my current book, in order to meet a desired publication date, my publisher (unknown to me) skipped the galley stage and went straight to printer’s proof. I had a couple of hours to look at that, and found lots of new errors. The published book, too, has errors as a result.


    • Peggy Blair says:

      We found errors all the way along, Hilary, and new ones popped up even after we’d found and fixed earlier ones. We lost editorial breaks, had some weird paragraph indents appear and disappear, and italicized words sometimes stretched into sentences. Then there were the errant quotation marks that popped up mid-sentence. It’s like Whack-a-Mole. I’m sure that despite our best efforts, there will be some in the final published book, too, as I was reading the gallery over Christmas (post-printer date) and discovered we’d left the period off the end of a sentence. Had read it 100+ times and never noticed, nor did any of the editors, proofreaders, translators etc.


  2. Oops. Didn’t look at the date on this….anyway, it doesn’t change my experience.


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