Where Do I Start?
As a first-time author, you may be looking to have your manuscript copy edited so you can submit it to a publishing service like Author House, iUniverse, or Xlibris. Before you do, there are a number of things you should know about self-publishing and copy editing so you can make the best decisions for your manuscript. We recommend that first-time authors embark on a three-step process. While these steps are not required, they will put you in a better position to make good decisions for you ... and eliminate any surprises down the road.
1. Read a good book on the self-publishing process to familiarize yourself with your options. With this background, you'll be in a much better position to make decisions about publishing, pricing, and distributing your book.
2. Submit your manuscript to us for a manuscript evaluation. Many authors may be surprised to hear that their manuscripts are not ready for copy editing. Their manuscripts may be poorly organized, improperly formatted, have deep issues with grammar, punctuation, or clarity of writing, or other problems. Getting a good, basic overview of the condition of your manuscript, along with a several-page analysis of any basic steps you can take to improve it, can put you in a much better position to make decisions about what to do next. Even if you are an experienced writer, manuscript evaluations can turn up more advanced issues, such as style, tone, and copyright issues. With an eval in hand, you can make critical changes up front, saving time (and cost) for you and your copy editor.
3. Once you have made any corrections based on the evaluation, it's you may be ready to have the manuscript edited. Notice we didn't say proofed. Unless you are a professional writer, the chances that you can get away with a proof are slim. A manuscript is ready to be proofed if it contains only the occasional error — a typo here or there, a missed capital or missing word every few pages. Most manuscripts that come in for "proofing" need a dozen or more corrections on every page. Capitalization is inconsistent. Punctuation is missing. The style and formatting are all over the place. This is a job for a copy editor, not a proofer.
In terms of copy editing, there are two basic types: mechanical and developmental / substantive.
Mechanical copy editing does not address the content. It simply looks at the manuscript in terms of cold, hard grammar, punctuation, usage, and style. In basic copy editing, the editor simply making sure the manuscript is clean. But just because a manuscript is clean (it has consistent punctuation, usage, grammar, and style) doesn't mean it's a good book or even readable.
Developmental / substantive editing can take a draft and turn it into a polished book ready for publication. Developmental / substantive editing includes copy editing but also polishing, rewriting, and even reorganiation if necessary. This requires a lot of skill and experience and is charged at a higher rate than mechanical editing.
Even once your manuscript is edited, it may need to be proofed. Editing is a human process, and even the best editors can get so "close" to a manuscript that they miss a thing or two. That's why proofing is a separate and subsequent process to copy editing. Traditional publishers use three, even four layers of editing and proofing (or more) before publication.
Self-publishing authors often think a single layer of editing is sufficient. But multiple layers of editing is a safety net that traditional publishers use, and if self-published authors want the same level of professionalism as a traditional publisher, they need to build in this redundancy, too. This isn't a "get out of jail free" card for the editor. It's the nature of the process.