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Interview with Jill Ronsley, copy editor
Welcome to this month‘s edition of Inside Scoop!
Have you ever seen editing services offered to writers and wondered how you might benefit from them? I have. So I decided to ask a professional.
Jill Ronsley is a professional copy editor and owner of SUN Editing & Book Design editing and writing services. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Blue Review. Here's what Jill says about copyediting.
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Kelley: What does it take to become a professional copy editor?
Jill: The skills that a copy editor needs are impeccable grammar, punctuation and spelling, a wide vocabulary, a firm grasp of syntax, or sentence structure, and a good sense of language.
The job of the copy editor is to polish a manuscript and make sure that it is flawless when she returns it to the author. A professional copy editor should have complete familiarity with at least one of the major editing stylebooks, such as The Chicago Manual of Style. With this as a solid basis, she can adjust to the personal style of any writer or the in-house style of a publishing house or magazine.
Specialized copy editors work with medical, scientific or technical writing. They need a thorough knowledge of the discipline they work in to make sure that terms are used correctly and clearly. Some copy editors do fact checking, which means they make sure that a research project has no errors of fact. It is also helpful to have a BA or a diploma from an accredited college or school for copy editors.
Kelley: How many years have you been a professional editor?
Jill: I have been working as a copy editor for over twenty years, both in-house and freelance. Over the past few years, I have worked mostly as a freelancer.
Kelley: What does a professional editing service do?
Jill: An individual or a business can hire a copy editor through a professional editing service to edit any sort of manuscript, such as a non-fictional book or novel, a short story, a magazine article, a cookbook, a dissertation, a work in translation, a manual, an interview, letters, reports, speeches, brochures, Web site content and so on.
Before a writer submits a manuscript to a prospective publisher, he or she may hire a copy editor to polish his or her work, as well as the cover letter. Sometimes a person has to complete an assignment, and before submitting it to his boss, he hires a copy editor to refine the language and make sure it is error-free. Senior and foreign students hire copy editors to check their papers or dissertations. Children's writers have hired me to review their manuscripts and rework them before submitting to publishers.
Kelley: Why is using a professional editing service beneficial to children's writers?
Jill: For the same reasons that it helps all writers. Whether the manuscript is written for adults or children, the grammar, flow of language, punctuation, choice of vocabulary, spelling and so on should be accurate. These details immensely affect the communication of a story, whether it is fiction or nonfiction. For the reader or publisher, errors in the text can be like stains on a shirt to the eye. On the other hand, a polished manuscript has a flow and clarity that makes it a joy to read.
Kelley: How can a writer know whether a copy editor will do a good job on his or her work?
Jill: Generally, an experienced copy editor will be able to provide references. She may also provide a sample edit to a prospective client so the writer can see the quality of work she provides, as well as an estimate of what the cost will be.
Kelley: How long does it take to have a manuscript edited?
Jill: That depends on two things: the length of the manuscript and the kind of corrections that are needed. A copy editor might complete a letter or brochure in an hour or less. A complex work, such as a novel, cookbook or manual would require more time. If a client has a deadline, I always let him or her know if I will be able to meet it.
There are two basic categories of copyediting: standard and substantive. Standard editing involves checking for errors of grammar, spelling and punctuation. This can be done quite quickly. Substantive editing may involve reorganizing sections of a manuscript and rewriting or consolidating the text, in addition to the regular work done on a standard edit.
A writer might have brilliant, creative ideas or something very worthwhile to say, but he or she may lack the complete writing and editing skills needed to turn out an error-free document. The copy editor ensures that in the final stage of the creative writing process, the text is excellent.
Kelley: What kind of changes do you make to manuscripts?
Jill: When I work on a text, the first things I look for are errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling. I eliminate wordiness and refine the sentence structure. Frequent mistakes that detract from the quality of a story or book are dangling participles, overuse of modifiers, repetition that causes the reader to lose interest in the story, excessive use of passive language, faulty sentence structure and illogical organization of the thoughts that the writer is trying to communicate. Sometimes, the idea that a writer wants to convey is perfectly clear to him, but he doesn't realize that the writing isn't communicating effectively to the reader.
Kelley: Do you edit magazine pieces too? If so, how long does it take, and what is the cost?
Jill: Of course! Magazine articles constitute a significant category, one that I particularly enjoy. Editing all sorts of texts is rewarding -- long or short, fiction or nonfiction, stories for children or literature for adults. Rates are determined by the length of a manuscript or the time required to finish a job, as well as the kind of editing required, standard or substantive. This applies to magazine articles, books, cookbooks, short stories, brochures, Web site content and so on.
Kelley: If editors at publishing houses request changes for a manuscript, why is a professional editing service an asset to a writer?
Jill: A manuscript worked on by a professional copy editor will be free from errors. When the editor at a publishing house reads an errorless work, she will immediately have the sense that the writer is a professional. She will not have to look past the flaws to find the story. The editor may still make recommendations for changes if she is considering accepting the manuscript -- after all, she is an editor, and she will always have her own suggestions! -- but these will certainly be fewer and less complex than they would have been if a copy editor had not already made revisions.
Kelley: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Jill: Yes! I love my work, and I enjoy working on all sorts of manuscripts. Everyone has something interesting to write. It may be educational, humorous, sad, compelling, technical, poetic, enlightening or something completely different. Rendering the written word into clear and sometimes beautiful language is my passion. That is why I enjoy working with writers of all genres, from all different backgrounds.
And there you have it! The Inside Scoop to copy editors and the services they provide!
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Kelley Hunsicker specializes in writing nonfiction for children, but she also writes general fiction and nonfiction. Her articles and books have been published by several magazines and publishing houses. She was the founder and first president of BOOST4Writers. For more information, click here. This interview was first published in The Blue Review, March 2004.