Let’s take a book. Hypothetically, it’s called Fire, Kiss, Electric Chair, and it’s coming out in the spring of 2009 from Putnam. Your editor has already line-edited it several times over. He’s had you work on motivation, dialog, and characterization. He’s had you add some scenes and cut others back.
By the time he’s done, you are both probably sick of it.
And then the copyeditor enters the picture. Her job is to be very picky. It’s to notice if one character has grey eyes on page 18 and grey-blue eyes on 148. It’s also to point out that the Webster’s preferred spelling is “gray.” If you mention that something is a Class 1 felony, she will look it up on the DEQ website. She knows if your publishing house likes “website,” “Web site” or some other variant.
She marks things for the typesetter, like underlining all your italics. She puts in comas and spaces and dashes (including em and en dashes) to fit house style.
Now, if you are very, very lucky, you get a copyeditor who goes the extra mile. If she notices you used the word “light” twice in the same paragraph, she circles them both – and suggests an alternative (“glow?”) so your tired brain has a starting place. With a Post-it, she flags problems (“This isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the story – ok?” or “Earlier he said tea, not coffee – ok?).
Sometimes she even catches a fairly large mistake that neither you nor your editor did. In those cases, she’s golden.
And in my case, her name is Ana. (Usually copyeditors are anonymous, but I asked for her name so I could thank her.) So thank you, Ana!
And to add to my joy, when I emailed her she emailed me back and said, “I zipped right through my first reading of it because I was so eager to find out what was going to happen. At times like that, working is indistinguishable from reading for pleasure.”
Now that’s a copyeditor who walks on water!