But You Don’t Know How to Copy Edit!

Recently someone said to me that she had copy edited a friend’s manuscript. She also said that she was the third copy editor to do so. Hmmm . . . I didn’t know her to be a professional copy editor. She’s smart, educated, and resourceful, but she’s not a copy editor. And clearly, if the guy was on his third “copy editor,” he probably wasn’t Spiral Galaxy Hubble Ultra Deep Fieldbothering to hire a professional one.

This anecdote perfectly illustrates why so many books go to print with tremendous errors in grammar, structure, syntax, and more. People who are very, very good at spotting typos and punctuation and spelling errors seem to think that this skill somehow qualifies them to copy edit at a professional level. (I know; I used to think that, too.) Unfortunately, it makes my job as a copy editor more difficult, as I find myself in the position of educating people about what copy editing actually entails as opposed to the “copy editing” that friends with English or writing degrees do.

I certainly recommend having friends and family read your manuscript and give you feedback. They can even point out those pesky typos pretty easily. But professional copy editing involves much more. For one thing, a copy editor ensures that a word you’re using is being used properly or that it’s really the word you want to use to say what you mean.

One of my favorite examples is using the words “comprised” and “composed” correctly. Many of us grew up saying something is “comprised of” other things. This is incorrect. Nothing is EVER “comprised of.” You probably mean “composed of” when you’re tempted to use the former.

Here’s how you can remember the difference:

The parts compose the whole, but the whole comprises the parts.

Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. defines “compose” as:

To form by putting together: FASHION <a committee composed of three representatives>; to form the substance of: CONSTITUTE <composed of many ingredients>

M-W defines “comprise” as:

To be made up of <a vast installation, comprising fifty buildings>

So then we see:

The universe is composed of galaxies, quasars, and intergalactic space.


Galaxies, quasars, and intergalactic space comprise the universe.

There is no “of” after comprises. Ever.

That’s the kind of detail that copy editors bring to the table. This is just one teeny, tiny example of how we elevate your manuscript, or any kind of writing, to a level of professionalism that you can be truly proud of. Leave the profession to the professionals. It will make a difference in your final product.