Ask Bethany House: What Does a Copy Editor Do?

This week’s Ask Bethany House question seems straightforward at first: “What does the job of an editor at Bethany House involve?”

Of course, my first response to this is: “What kind of editor?” Yes, it makes a difference, and to add to the confusion, publishing companies don’t always use the same terminology to refer to each type of editor.

The ancient version of copy editors?

The origin of modern copy editors?

If you’re interested in the perspective of an acquisitions editor, check out this Q&A. Today on the blog, we’re chatting with Elisa, one of our copy editors, about the work she does on Bethany House books.

Amy: If you were explaining to someone totally unfamiliar with publishing terminology what you do as a copy editor, what would you say?

Elisa: I work to make a book consistent and polished so that the author’s vision is clearly expressed to the reader. People usually associate copy editing with grammar and spelling, which are certainly a large part of the job, but it also includes keeping character descriptions consistent, tracking timelines, verifying sources and references to real people and places, making sure all necessary pieces are included, and following the first rule of copy editing: Do no harm. It’s not my book, and in a sense I aim to make my work invisible so that the author’s message is cleanly delivered to the reader.

Amy: Interesting—I don’t even know that I would have thought of all of those areas. So, then, what three qualities would you say are most important in someone who wants to be a copy editor?

Elisa: A copy editor should be attentive, cooperative, and patient.

Amy: Someone reading this might think, “Yes, I am all three of those things.” What practical advice would you give a person interested in a career in editing?

Elisa: Find as many possible ways to gain experience now. This could include working on a school newspaper or literary journal, doing freelance proofreading for a local magazine (this is how I started), volunteering as a writing tutor, proofreading newsletters for an organization or ministry, doing an internship or informational interview in the industry, and taking editing, proofreading, and writing classes. When you are first starting, also look for opportunities to develop the skills you will need as an editor, even if the tasks may not seem to directly correspond to editing. In college I worked for over two years as an assistant to our band director and managed our music library, learning about Excel, data entry, organization, and how to manage stacks and stacks of paper all around you (all of which are still applicable in my job today).

Elisa likes to visit libraries in her travels. This is the view from the top floor of the Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam). On this same trip to the Netherlands, she had the chance to visit the Corrie ten Boom house museum, to see the location of The Hiding Place in person.

Elisa likes to visit libraries in her travels. This is the view from the top floor of the Amsterdam Public Library (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam). On this same trip to the Netherlands, she had the chance to visit the Corrie ten Boom house museum, to see the location of The Hiding Place in person.

Thanks so much for joining us, Elisa! And readers, watch the blog for more behind-the-scenes interviews with Bethany House employees in the coming months!

What question do you have about what goes on behind-the-scenes at Bethany House? We may cover it in a future blog post!

16 thoughts on “Ask Bethany House: What Does a Copy Editor Do?

  1. As an author, I LOVE copy editors. I don’t communicate with them one on one, but oh how I value the work that they do! Elisa said, “the first rule of copy editing: Do no harm. It’s not my book, and in a sense I aim to make my work invisible so that the author’s message is cleanly delivered to the reader.” I’m very particular about my books and I go over them and over them, trying to get every detail right. But copy editors have helped me “cleanly deliver” my message every time.

    With My Stubborn Heart the copy editor discovered a timeline issue… I believe I’d put in more passage of time between Halloween and Thanksgiving than is possible. 🙂 Both my editor and I thought I’d gotten it right, but the copy editor caught it and suggested an easy, seamless way to fix it that really was almost invisible. Bless her and her attentiveness! More than anyone, I really do want the books to go out without mistakes and inconsistencies. Copy editors are key!

    • Thanks, Becky! I know it means a lot to our editorial team to hear things like that. It’s true that authors and readers need editors, even in the times where they’re just working quietly behind-the-scenes.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  2. Thanks for sharing this information!

    I love to check out book stores when I travel, but I never thought about touring libraries.

  3. I am in awe of all that goes into making a book not just a book but a story that the reader will enjoy and remember after reading.thanks for your work and the way you have explained for us to understand it. I am finding there are many facets to Bethany House.

  4. Add me to the “grateful for copy editors” list. My most recent ms has 94,837 words and over 500,000 key strokes. When a writer edits as heavily as I do, there’s a lot of potential for error. Missing words. Extra words. Eyes that change color. A moon that’s full for an entire month. Pens that turn into pencils. Most embarrassing of all was a slang expression that wasn’t quite as innocent as I thought.

    I view my books as a team effort, and editors at all levels are key players.

    And now a question . . . Oxford comma. Yes or No? And what about those pesky “…” ellipses? Love ’em or hate ’em? I’m anti Oxford comma except when it’s needed and hopelessly addicted to “…”

    Thank you, ladies, for the insightful post!

    • Love those examples, Victoria! As for the other questions, I am decidedly pro-Oxford comma (drove me crazy when I couldn’t use it in journalism classes). Don’t worry. We can still be friends. Ellipses are my favorite, although unlike our copy editors, I sometimes have trouble keeping mine formatted consistently.

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  5. How can an almost-college graduate get into the editing world? I’m graduating in December from Purdue’s professional writing program, and copy editing is one of my writer-ly strengths and something I enjoy. I’m a writing tutor, and I also work as an editor with a research journal at my university. I would love to hear more about all levels of editing from you.

    • That’s a great question, and I think Elisa’s last answer addresses some of the experience helpful in getting a job as a copy editor. Publishing companies might be few and far between, but there are lots of magazines, ministries, colleges, and other organizations that need a good editor (sometimes in a position that’s combined with writing). One of our editors here was hired after an internship with Bethany House, but all the others simply came with good resumes of experience and demonstrated their competence in the interview. Hopefully next month we’ll have more information from the editorial desk! Thanks for stopping by!

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  6. Pingback: Ask Bethany House: What Does a Line Editor Do? | Bethany House Fiction

  7. Reblogged this on Scribbles and Somedays and commented:
    This is an intriguing look inside the work of a copy editor for a publishing house! Amy and Elisa do a great job exploring the work itself and ideas for how to gain experience and the necessary skill set to become a copy editor.

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