Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nerd Alert! Copyeditors and Proofreaders

When I was an Editor 90% of people I met outside of the industry, assumed that meant I would be fixing spelling and punctuation. I would roll my eyes and smile, and explain for the hundredth time, no, that's a completely different job.

Copyeditors and Proofreaders check that everything is spelled correctly and that the grammar is appropriate. They usually work freelance, outside of publishing houses. They do need to take additional classes for proper training for this job. It can be tedious, and can be difficult to keep yourself fully employed, but can have more freedom.

They check dates (a character can't go to a Starbucks in 1978 because Starbucks didn't exist then), trademarks (not only do trademarked words all need to be capitalized, but a character cannot drink a coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. Styrofoam is and ONLY is a rigid pink insulation used in roofing), and consistency. Every publishing house has a style guide, so you can check if they write numbers out like twenty-one or use numerals like 21. They have a long list of words and examples. The copyeditor would also come up with a manuscript-specific list of character names, places, and events.

For those of you who have read Advanced Reader Copies, you'll see the need for proofreaders. When a manuscript is entered into the interior design program, it is no longer a series of words, it is an image. In the design of a manuscript, words are essentially pictures. So spell check programs don't work. Not to mention spell check programs have never worked on homophones.

Working freelance can be nerve-wracking. No health insurance. No vacation days. But on the other hand, no co-workers. No office. No 9-5. You can work when you need to, and not when you don't. You can live somewhere not in New York. The freedom and flexibility can be really freeing. You'd need a good tax accountant to work for yourself, but working for one's self can be a great opportunity. You need to network with Production Heads. Send out cold emails. Network through whatever copyediting classes you took, including asking the professor for networking help.

Novels and narrative nonfiction (memoirs) pay the least. If you are specialized and can copyedit an obscure history book or a medical or chemistry text, you can charge much, much more. It's more work, but the pay rate is also related to supply. There aren't many copyeditors/ proofreaders who can work on the more obscure, more technical books. Of course, there also aren't a ton of those books published each year so someone working on just straight-fiction can keep very steady work. Most copyeditors are paid by the hour. $25 an hour is a good benchmark for a standard manuscript, with specialists earning $35 to $100 an hour. Obviously, there is quite a range. Payment is sometimes by the word, and a clean 80,000 word manuscript will pay about $650-800. A heavy copyedit (a sloppier manuscript that needs a lot more work) can pay 50% to 250% more.


Kathy said...

Hey, do you know of any reputable online classes for copy editing?

Kate said...

So interesting! I included this as part of my Friday Five at Kate's Library.

Carin S. said...

Thanks Kate!

Kathy, I'm not familiar enough to really answer this, except to note that one thing you really want to get from this class is contacts, so a class that would have multiple guest lecturers would be good, and if the teacher is currently employed as a production editor (who is the person you'd be looking to hire you!) all the better. I think for-profit schools aren't good, but otherwise, check out last week's post about publishing programs which are probably also going to be considered the best online, as they have the most name recognition in the industry. Good luck!

Kathy said...

Thank you for the tips!

christa @ mental foodie said...

What an informative post! I don't think this is a job for me though! I wish I have the talent for it! I'd enjoy the fact checking part, but not the grammar / spelling part...