I’m not a big re-blogger (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve done it here before…certainly very few times). But this post crossed my desk courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association (of which I am a member), and it’s worth sharing.
Holly Robinson, an author of books, articles, and essays, recently published the following short but very appreciative and accurate post about how important good copyediting really is:
That’s right. Copyeditors aren’t only about making sure everything is spelled correctly; that your use of numerals versus spelled numbers is consistent; that your verb tenses make sense; and that your punctuation doesn’t lead to unintentional confusion (or comic results). Lord knows, we do an awful lot of that sort of work.
More important to many projects, we act as a second head on your shoulders: not simply that “second pair of eyes” writers always talk about, but in fact a complete second brain, one that’s there to filter, sort, compare, index, and fact check when your own memory for the details might not be entirely up to the task. (Or maybe you just can’t be bothered to look things up. That’s okay — doing it for you is part of what we do.)
Holly is spot-on with the kind of things we work to catch and correct in the name of making the author look better. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve snagged little errors of the kind she highlights: wrong days of the week, fluctuating time of day, age of a character, hair or eye color, the weather, character name (or spelling) changes, position of objects critical to the action in a scene, and so on. I’m especially a stickler for technology and anachronistic speech, and often root out misuses of both that have gone unnoticed by earlier readers.
There’s an infamous error in Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the “Robinson” overlap with Holly is pure coincidence). Near the start of Chapter IV, Crusoe strips off his clothes and swims out to the wreck of his ship — where shortly thereafter he fills his pockets (!) with biscuit from the ship’s stores. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but it’s a pretty safe bet that a good copyeditor wouldn’t have let such a snicker-inducing gaffe slip by.
Thanks, Holly. Copyeditors are used to being unsung heroes, but this one isn’t about to turn his nose up at the unsolicited shout-out you’ve given us.