Editors Tracy Gold and Julia Artz go through extracts submitted by authors and refine their prose live on Youtube. Sign up for a free Reedsy account to get notified about similar future events.
Julie Artz: A few quick words before we dive into the editing: we are going to be copy editing using the Chicago Manual of Style — that is the standard manuscript style in the publishing industry. There are other style guides out there, what’s important is to pick a style and be consistent with it.
Tracy Gold: We also want to talk about this type of editing. Copy editing involves reading a text very carefully to pick up all the errors and to make sure the style is consistent and clean. It usually doesn’t involve work on big picture elements like character or plot, although I will sometimes comment on those issues if I notice them.
As for the process, unless it’s little typos or grammatical errors, I will leave a comment for the author so that they can consider my suggestions.
JA: I normally recommend copy editing once the author has done everything they can for the plot, meaning after they have received comments from beta readers and finished their revision/developmental editing. You don’t want to do a copy edit when you still have big picture changes to be made, because then you’d have to go back and do the copy editing again.
When I get a request through Reedsy, I use the sample to determine if copy editing is what this author needs right now, since I don’t track big picture developments when I copy edit. If there are general stylistic errors, I don’t edit directly but leave a note for the author.
Traditional publishers provide copy edits for their authors, so often if you’re looking for a copy edit, it’s probably because you’re self-publishing.
With that, let’s get on to the edits!
Title: You can call me… Twenty
Context: This is the start of the introduction of the Chief Detective Inspector, as he begins to interview Twenty.
Ed was approaching retirement and he had aged badly. The pouches sagging below his eyes, large and baggy enough to serve as pockets if he needed two showed that. They were dark and uncomfortable-looking, somehow matching the vertical lines sharply etched on either side of his mouth. He was poorly turned out. His crumpled ill-fitting suit was spotted with long-standing grease marks, and crumbs from a sandwich bolted down between two interviews.
Title: You Can Call Me . . . Twenty
Ed was approaching retirement and he had aged badly. The pouches sagging below his eyes were large and baggy enough to serve as pockets. Vertical lines sharply etched the sides of his mouth. He was poorly turned out. His crumpled ill-fitting suit was spotted with grease marks and crumbs from the sandwich he bolted down between two interviews.
- Pay attention to Chicago Style title capitalization and punctuation
- Cut excessive descriptions by using a strong metaphor (e.g. the eye bags as pockets)
- Avoid overusing adjectives, especially hyphenated ones
- Read the text aloud to see if it makes sense
Title: Viktoria Black
His face screws when he sees my eyes. Like they’re the most unnatural, disgusting thing. I hated them when I was younger. People called me a freak for having one dark-brown eye and one light-blue eye. But now, I love them. They’re my weapon. Gives me that evil, crazed look. I pull up his shirt just enough to expose the skin of his belly. I drag my knife around it in circles. His belly trembles. It makes me smile.
His face screws up when he sees my eyes, one dark-brown and one light blue. Like they’re the most unnatural, disgusting thing. I hated them when I was younger. People called me a freak. But now, I love them. They’re my weapon. Give me that evil, crazed look. I pull up his shirt just enough to expose the skin of his belly. I drag my knife around it in circles. He trembles. I smile.
- Set the atmosphere by immediately drawing attention to striking details (e.g. the different colored eyes)
- Create impact by intentionally using rhythm and fragments rather than complete sentences
- Ensure subject-verb agreement by noting who/what is doing the action
Title: Stake through the heart
Context: This is the opening of a crime thriller novel.
The eerie calmness of the midnight's silence was sliced through by a shrill scream , it was highly unlike to be that of a boy, but it was. A tall dark figure, was chasing the boy into a dungeon like smelly dead end of a street. The boy ran like he can never run again in his life, with no soul to help. The figure, however chased the boy with equal force as the fifteen year old boy.
Title: Stake through the Heart
The eerie calmness of the midnight silence was sliced through by a shrill scream. It was highly unlikely to be that of a boy, but it was. A tall dark figure chased the boy into a dungeon-like, smelly, dead end of a street. The boy ran like his life depended on it, with no soul to help. The figure, however, ran with equal speed.
- Articles and prepositions are not capitalized in a title
- A sentence with two stand-alone clauses should be split into two or joined with a conjunction or semicolon to avoid a comma splice
- If a phrase must be included for the sentence to make sense, there should be no comma before or after it
- Use hyphenated adjectives to clarify what you mean (e.g. dungeon-like)
- Use commas when there are two or more adjectives in front of a noun
- Conjunctions used in the middle of a sentence should not be separated by commas
- Sentences can be rephrased to provide better context about the narrator
- Use a more active voice (e.g. rewrite “it was” with something that indicates the narrator)
Title: A Dragons Tail
As I slowly wake I see my parents waking up as well. “How long do we have to stay in this cave? I mean first, it smells like rotten guts. Second, it's dark, and I mean very dark.” I say as I slowly stand up.
“There is a difference in where you want to live and where you must, to survive. After Queen Faren evicted us from her kingdom this is the best we’ve got.” My dad says as he looks at me. “If you want, you can go try and fend for yourself"
Title: A Dragon’s Tale (unless the dragon’s tail is featured in the story)
I open my eyes. My parents stir next to me on the floor of the wet cave.
“How long do we have to stay in this cave? It smells like rotten guts and it's dark, and I mean very dark,” I say as I slowly stand up.
“There’s a difference between where you want to live and where you must, to survive. This is the best we’ve got,” my dad says. “If you want, you can go try and fend for yourself.”
- Middle Grade and Fantasy books are mostly written in the past tense
- Avoid clichés such as waking up at the start of the story
- Show the parents waking up rather than telling it
- Add some adjectives to set the scene of the cave
- Make dialogues more natural by keeping them short (around three beats) and by contracting phrases (e.g. “there is” > “there’s”)
- Cut parts of the dialogue that are obvious to the characters present (e.g. the eviction)
- Use a comma after a dialogue line if it’s followed by a dialogue tag
- Pay attention to prepositions used
- Insert actions for characters other than looking at one another in dialogues to enliven them
Title: The first day
Context: Introduction of a new boss.
From the double doors emerged a small man, who’s height barely reached the shoulders of the security guards surrounding him. He stood still, front and center of the room, looking deep into the eyes of the new hires seated in front of him. Bursting with anticipation, fueled by optimism, the new hires drew their pens and opened their notebooks, more importantly their hearts, ready to experience, to record what would follow.
Title: The First Day
From the double doors emerged a small man whose head barely reached the shoulders of the security guards surrounding him. He stood front and center, looking deep into the eyes of the new hires seated in front of him. Bursting with anticipation, fueled by optimism, the new hires drew their pens and opened their notebooks, more importantly their hearts, ready to experience, to record what would follow.
- Pay attention to the difference between contractions and possessive apostrophes (e.g. who’s vs. whose)
- Cut details that don’t add anything to the story/description
- You can create a rhythm by playing with the punctuation (especially commas)
Title: Cinæan in the South
The frothing waves ebbed in and out as the stars stood still. I breathed in and out, but my feet stayed rooted to the ground. The white sand shifted around my feet and sifted between my toes, and still, I couldn’t bring myself to move. My heart was pounding within my breast and my ribcage heaved, struggling to draw breath, and yet, my body would not move.
The waves ebbed as the stars stood still. I breathed in and out, my feet rooted to the ground. The white sand shifted around my feet, sifting between my toes, and still, I couldn’t bring myself to move. My ribcage heaved, as I struggled to draw breath, and yet, I could not move.
- Avoid purple prose by cutting excessive/repeated adjectives, verbs, or phrases
- Don’t overuse conjunctions (e.g. “and”) in one sentence
- Avoid cliché descriptions (e.g. pounding hearts, difficult breaths)
Title: The Librarians’ Read
Context: This is an opening paragraph.
Just another morning to Amy Whitman, just another day, another week, another year. Then again, maybe not. She stretched and yawned as she headed to the kitchen for her cup of morning coffee. With an eerie feeling she glanced toward the small, but neat, desk in the corner of the living room. Walking toward the desk, hairs prickled on the back of Amy’s neck until she picked up a newspaper. She shivered.
Title: The Librarian’s Read (unless there’s more than one librarian)
Just another morning to Amy Whitman, just another day, another week, another year. Then again, maybe not. She stretched and yawned as she headed to the kitchen for her cup of morning coffee. With an eerie feeling she glanced toward the small, but neat, desk in the corner of the living room. Amy walked toward the desk, hairs prickling on the back of her neck. She picked up the newspaper she’d brought inside that morning and shivered when she saw the bottom of the front page.
- Rephrase to avoid the dangling modifier, where the verb appears to modify the wrong noun (e.g. it’s Amy who walks toward the desk, not her hair)
- Clarify where objects are/come from (e.g. did Amy pick up the newspaper that morning? Why did she have an eerie feeling?)