A Submitting Author’s Guide to Copyediting

And, no, google, as usual, this post isn’t going to be as interesting as you think it’s going to be.

Dear Independent Clause,

In light of today’s post, I was wondering whether there are any page-turner copy editor reference books you recommend. As an author hoping to send a manuscript next week, I feel I ought to know.




Dear Author,

Congratulations! Sometimes you have to kiss the baby and let it go. (That might be a mixed metaphor, sorry.)

You don’t need to have a perfectly copyedited piece to submit to a journal. First of all it would put me and my friends out of business. Second of all, unless you’re submitting to the Journal of Snobby English Majors, your peer reviewers aren’t going to notice that you missed a period on page 32. And even if they did notice it, they are not going to reject your manuscript just because of one typo.

That said, you have to make sure that your manuscript has no embarrassing typos. Make sure you’re sending the final version. And for fuck’s sake, correct any misspelled words. Follow all their tricky little format requirements. It’ll keep the production staff happier, if nothing else. However, if you are at a point where you’re considering copyediting, you probably know all of these things.

Maybe you want to brush up on your grammar. My favorite grammar page turner is Woe is I by Patricia O’Connor. Let’s not forget Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog for a further in-depth look about why grammar is the way it is. If you’re worried about your charts first look at charts in the journal to which you are submitting. Or you can look at the man, Edward Tufte, himself.

Here’s what you can expect when you are copyedited: There will be a certain number of changes that are inevitable. Your journal will change small things to conform with house style. For example if you’re an American submitting to a British journal, there is a good chance that all your colors will be colours and your labor parties will organise.

Any change that seems extreme to the copyeditor, who tends to be paranoid and conservative (about changing things on the page, not necessarily about politics), will be called out in a query. The copyeditor will seem stiff and polite because he or she doesn’t want to offend, but your copyeditor likely has a good sense of humor, but she will shout you down about serial commas if necessary.

In short, dear Author, don’t worry. It will be less painful than a dentist appointment and less offensive than the commercials during a football game.

Good luck.

Indy Clause


2 responses to “A Submitting Author’s Guide to Copyediting

  1. I think IC may have forgotten something important (although she didn’t really. You asked her about pre-submission author responsibilities, and I am going toto elaborate more widely). One important task for the author is acknowledging the copy editor. One can do things like apologize for unconscionable mistakes, and thank the copy editor for picking them up. One can acknowledge the copy editor’s superior moral fiber an punctilious work when engaging in discussions with the academic editor or project manager. I defer to the copy editor when i have a question about clarity, flow or tone. For my more important manuscripts, I have been known to hire a copy editor PRIOR to submission. Ah, thank heavens there are copy editors out there to save us from our foibles! Merci. Merci encore!

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