Copy Editing Won’t Save Your Work

Copy editing is messy.One of the final steps in preparing your work to be published is having it copy edited, which is to say that there are other steps. For example, your work needs to be revised. It needs to be read by beta readers, preferably ones who read critically. It needs to be read by an editor who will provide structural feedback.* It will then need to be revised according to the feedback and reception received. Then and only then is it ready to be hacked to pieces by the copy editor.

If those steps are skipped, no amount of copy editing will save your work. Your work has an uncertain foundation, and that foundation has to be addressed. Yes, it will require hard labor. Yes, it’s frustrating. Yes, you’re going to want to quit writing and wish you’d taken up something like carpentry or maybe even data entry.

If you’re truly serious about both becoming a better writer and writing publishable work, though, you will take care with the foundation. You will make certain that the ground is level before you pour any concrete. You will use the right joints and wood. You will build according to code so that your creation won’t blow to pieces when the first gust of critique comes. You will take care with the leveling so that it won’t flood when the rain of negative readers begins.

If you don’t, if you still choose to have your work only copy edited, you may end up with a piece that follows the rules. You’ll have commas and semi-colons in all the right places. You will not, however, have a work that compels. You’ll have a work that tries to cover its flaws with correct punctuation marks, and that, as any home inspector will tell you, just doesn’t work. The cracks in the foundation remain evident no matter how much spackle and paint you use. The floor still dips as evidenced by the step – that now trips everyone, including you – put in place.

If you want a solid work, you have to do solid work. You have to revise. You have to ask for readers’ input. You have to work with an editor who focuses on structure and development. Only then can you work with a copy editor, but, even then, copy editing won’t save your work. It’s all the steps that do so, not one of them alone.

*As a side note, addressing structural problems at the outset can mitigate a number of the copy editing concerns.

Image: Tammy Strobel (CC BY2.0)


  1. […] Erin spends a little time thinking about what it’s like to work from home. She also says some potentially “fighting words” when she claims that copy editing won’t save a person’s work. […]

  2. […] It’s that ego that causes many a writer to submit work to an editor with the caveat “I’ve already received as much feedback as I would like. I only want you to look at the copy.” Perhaps the point is fair if feedback was given by another editor or critical reader, but the editor will fear that ego has arrived in her inbox. The editor may choose to take the work, but a part of her will worry that she is in for a time of treading upon eggshells. […]