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Is a copy editor a friend or a foe?

Is a copy editor a friend or a foe? On several occasions I have heard a self-satisfied author say, “I don’t need you to do a copy edit on my book, I’ve already edited it. All it needs is a quick proof-read.”

This view is wrong – on several counts. Firstly, he is confusing the role of an editor – or more correctly termed a copy editor – and the role of a proof-reader. A common mistake that occurs fairly frequently.

Even worse, I remember one old chap saying, “Listen, laddie, I once wrote a letter to the Cape Argus – and it was published. So don’t tell me my work needs editing!”

The second point is that everyone is blind to their own errors – to a larger or lesser degree – so why should authors be any different? Well, they are not.

It has been said that sometimes an author will regard an editor as the enemy.  Nothing could be further from the truth, yet sometimes a copy editor is suspiciously viewed as a stranger who wants, willy-nilly, to force his opinion down the author’s throat and mutilate the manuscript he has been labouring on for months, or even years.

Truth is, unless you are Shakespeare, everyone’s work can be improved. So copy editors are very definitely essential.

By having the advantage of a fresh pair of eyes,  a copy editor can turn an untidy and disorderly manuscript into an easily understandable and readable book.

How does a copy editor provide a different perspective?

  • By doing a grammar check
  • Making sure that the spelling is standardised
  • Looking for ambiguities and repetitions
  • Confirming facts.

These are only a few examples of the tasks a copy editor must perform.

In other words a copy editor creates order out of chaos, and the author has to learn to swallow his pride and concede that his manuscript is by no means perfect.

But if an author regards the copy editor as a friend and cultivates a good working relationship with him it will pay handsome dividends – and the book will benefit.


John DorringtonJohn Dorrington (27)

John is a freelance copy-writer, editor and proof-reader, and has written four books. He has edited several novels and factual books, although much of his work involves editing students’ academic dissertations, including several Master’s and Doctoral theses. He is a graduate of the University of Cape Town where he studied English and History


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