We Don’t Need No Copy Editors.

Guest Post by Giacomo Giammatteo

I Don’t Have to Use Any Stinking Copy Editors.

There has been a lot of talk about Indie Authors lately, particularly about the mistakes found in Indie books. I have to admit, it bothers me as a reader to find errors in grammar, typos, and misspelled and misused words.

I asked quite a few authors who they used for their editing, and many of them said they did their own editing, or had friends look it over. The general consensus was that copy editing was expensive, and these authors felt they could get by without it.

This got me to thinking about all the money I could save if I cut out my copy editor. After all, what exactly does a copy editor do? I decided to make a list so that I could balance the need versus the cost. Here’s what I came up with. 

What a good copy editor will do for you:

  • Tell you that you used “damn near” too damn many times.
  • Remind you that you have three characters that use the phrase “Morning, Darlin'” repeatedly.
  • Advise you that “grinned,” is not a dialogue tag, and neither is “smile, sighed, laughed, snarled, or offered.”
  • Suggest that you choose a name other than Mollie because four of your characters have names starting with the letter “M.”
  • Ask you politely if you meant for your detective to be carrying a Beretta…because in chapter four he was using a Smith & Wesson.
  • Direct you to a thesaurus, where you can find alternate ways to say “stare.”
  • Make a note that your protag has “smiled” 67 times. So far. And this is only chapter 17.
  • Fix your atrocious misuse of semicolons; even though you insist you know how to use them.
  • Remind you that “Dad” should be capitalized when your character is addressing “dad” in dialogue; also remind you that “captain, lieutenant, and sergeant” are all capitalized when addressed in dialogue.
  • Suggest you quit using semicolons; until you learn how to use them.
  • Tell you that you capitalized “Goddamn” in chapter six and did not capitalize “goddamn” in chapter 21. Goddamnit.
  • Point out that you have use “goddamn,” 89 times in the first half of the book.
  • A good-copy-editor will fix all the mistakes with your compound-adjectives.
  • Caution you that exclamation points are to be used sparingly!!!
  • Provide final warning that if you use semicolons again, she will quit as your copy editor.     

We self-published authors have to make a lot of decisions, like which projects to do ourselves and which ones to sub-contract. It’s your decision, but if it were me, I’d hire a copy editor. A good one. 

I know those differences I cited don’t seem like much, but for me, as a reader, it would be the difference between putting that book down or finishing it, and perhaps more importantly, between never reading that author again and picking up every book that author writes. 

It takes a long time to write a book, polish it, and get it ready for publication. Why ruin that work by trying to save a few bucks on copy editing? Do yourself, and your readers, a favor. If you don’t know a good editor, get recommendations from people you trust. And once you find a good one, do what’s necessary to get that book in shape. Sell your soul if you have to, but don’t try doing it yourself. 

I wrote this post for the rest of you writers. I don’t need a copy editor, because I intend to keep mine. 

Ciao, and thanks for listening, 


Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of Murder Takes Time, and A Bullet For Carlos. He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 41 loving “friends.” You can find Giacomo at http://giacomogiammatteo.com


Posted on October 11, 2012, in Publicity & Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Excellent advice and so well written!

  2. A must-have-completely-excellent list and great post as always!!! An excellent copy writer improves the quality of the end result; and we should always use one. Thanks for making this so clear in a non-preachy-but-entertaining way!!! (Love your posts as always.)

  3. Very informative, Jim. And since I've read your novels, now I know why they are so tight with grammar and word usage. Thanks, man. Keep smilin'…

  4. Good blog! This is a great summary of a typical day's work for me (as a copy editor).I'd add (after ■Direct you to a thesaurus…) ■ Congratulate you on your inventive use of said thesaurus but suggest you use it in conjunction with a dictionary to make sure you are using words correctly.

  5. Well said! Thank you for post. You couldn't be more right.

  6. Hear; Here!!! Well said, sir. <G>Seriously, very well said and something I stress in the self-publishing program I'm giving on Saturday. Two places you shouldn't skimp is on an editor and your cover.

  7. Thanks for the interesting email. As a proofreader and copy editor I've worked with several indie authors who've published their books, had a lot of negative reviews due to the errors in their novels, and then who have come to me (or someone like me) to have all the mistakes corrected. Some of them have asked their friends to look over their work, and are surprised by the number of errors I find, not realising that a copy editor doesn't read a manuscript in the same way that a casual reader does. There are some good indie books out there, which could be great if the author had only used a copy editor. I love my job, and it really upsets me to see talented authors let themselves down for the sake of a ha'porth of tar, as it were!

  8. I love this post. I just used a developmental editor for my first novel. I had beta readers who'd loved the book. After I showed them his notes/suggestions, they were all like "Oh yeah. That actually sounds better."Now it's back to re-writing. He does copy-editng on the second go around. Luckily, he was kind enough not to say anything about my grammar/punctuation yet. It's coming though. I know it! 🙂

  9. As a self-published author, I admit that the expenses involved in releasing a single book can be overwhelming, and many people think it is as easy as clicking two buttons – upload and sell. I would proudly release a book with a horrible cover, rather than one filled with errors. It took me nearly nine months to find a new copy editor, but I did it, and I will never release a book without having an editor review and advise me first. It is easy for me to overlook those little mistakes, but as a reader … there have been many times when I catch the author’s mistakes straight away. I know that dreaded feeling of disappointment I get when I purchase something that on a final sale, and I internally kick myself for wasting money on something I knew that I couldn’t return. I put myself into those shoes when I publish a novel. My goal is to take my readers to on an adventure, and not have them feel like they were taken for a ride. Thank you, Giacomo Giammatteo for sharing, Sass 🙂

  10. Ha, ha, that was a very funny, tongue-in-cheek post. Even though my copy editor hardly finds any mistakes, I still value her extra eyeballs and running commentary. She's a real grammar nerd and catches mistakes other editors let slip through. What's funny is that I got infected by some of the bad writing I've been reading, and mistakes I didn't make in my first MS crept into the second MS. Boy, did she call them out. 🙂

  11. In addition to making sure there aren't too many characters with M like Mollie, it's also important for an editor to point out that Mollie needs to be Mollie throughout and not sometimes Molly. I'm always amazed how often I see this problem. Oh, and a copy editor makes sure you kill a vampire with a stake, because a steak won't do it (unless it's loaded with garlic). As a freelance editor, I LOVED this post!

  12. Absolutely agree. I've been in the business of writing, professionally, for 30 years. The fact is that copy-editors are essential. If they weren't, the professional publishing houses wouldn't use them – they have to keep costs down, after all. The hard fact is that authors are their own worst proof-editors, and having someone else professionally look over the work is a vital part of the whole process of chasing quality. That's separate from line-editing, the search for literals, inconsistencies and so forth, which is another skill again – and another task best handled by an external expert. Authors are WRITERS, not PROOFERS. Different skill set. Yes, it costs – but as you say, the pay-off is absolutely worth it.Matthew

  13. Oh, thank you! I stopped reading self-published books long ago because I was tired of all the errors – grammar, spelling, continuity and everything else under the sun. I used to work for a newspaper and people would send in their books in hopes of being reviewed. Our reviewer eventually refused to touch any more self-published books because it was impossible to be polite about some of the errors. We would leave the books around the building for people to pick up and take home, and eventually the self-published books would just start piling up because everyone was sick of trying to read the plot through all the errors!So – lesson to all authors. If you think getting a copy editor doesn't matter, think again!

  14. As a copy editor, thank you for pointing out that we provide a service based on education and experience that your mother, sister, aunt or bet friend can't.

  15. Giacomo, thanks very much for keeping this issue alive. Poor copy editing is my permission to not bother reading a book. I don't know how many free e-books I've browsed on amazon.com that are littered with grammatical problems. My personal favorite is the use of the apostrophe for plurals.One or two typos are forgivable, especially when they are not easily noticed (After my latest book was printed, I discovered a missing end quote, and the use of "which" when "who" was the correct form. These will be remedied in future printings).But here's a trend that I've been discovering: Mass Market publishing has relaxed its copy editing standards. Several mass market books, including bestsellers, have an alarming lack of editing that may not be as bad as the self-published newbie without the copy editor, but I am placing my bets on independent publishing to become the bastion of the more carefully edited work. We independents have been viewed as second-class, and when you're in second place, you try harder. That's a good habit. Oh — and by the way, it's really good to have two editors — you can't afford not to these days.

  16. I have to agree with Mr. Giammatteo. The difference between a good manuscript and a bookshelf ready book is a copy editor, in my opinion. For the 95% of us, no matter how often, or thoroughly you read your own writing, you're going to miss many of those "goofs" he points out. I use the same editor for content criticism as I do for copy editing. It's almost like partnering, and the input I gain makes all the difference in the final product. You don't necessarily have to accept all comments and suggestions, but at least you have the opportunity to consider them.

  17. Good points. If you can't afford a professional, at least find someone who does some sort of writing for a living. It's difficult to catch all of your own errors or inconsistencies.BTW: What's become of copy editors at major publishers? In recent years I've seen countless mistakes (repetition, typos, poor punctuation, etc). I agree that Indie authors should hold themselves to the highest standards. But writers from the big houses shouldn't get a free pass.

  18. Sorry I'm so late responding, but we have a new granddaughter and she takes precedence. Thanks so much for all the comments. I'm a true believer in editors, and beta readers, and anything that helps ensure a better book for readers to enjoy.

  19. I have found that my copy editor has saved me a lot of embarrassment as an author.

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