Do You Need a Copyeditor? and Yucca Bells

In today’s Journal

* Do You Need a Copyeditor?
* A Beautiful Time of Year
* Of Interest

Do You Need a Copyeditor?

In response to yesterday’s guest post by Dan Baldwin, one writer (thanks, George K) emailed,

“Dean said (in his 20booksto50 speech on youtube late last year) that his editor only corrects typos and thats it. They are ‘not allowed to change a word’. My question is when you said a good editor is essential are you talking about [only] searching for typos as well? What advice in your opionion do you accept from an editor?”

I responded to George but, since the statement and post were Dan’s to defend, I also forwarded George’s email and my response to Dan.

Still, I thought my response to George might be good fodder for a Journal post.

So do you need a copyeditor?

Only you can answer that question, and anyone who repeats the old myth that “all writers need an editor” is full of something. And it isn’t something good.

First, I agree that most fiction could benefit from the attention of a good COPYeditor, but no other editors need apply. Frankly, they’re shysters, only out to separate you from your hard-earned cash.

Because I was apparently dipped in the English Language River at birth, the nuances of the language are really easy for me. The language comes naturally for me. The nuances make perfect sense.

For that reason, I don’t need or use an editor at all. But if I did, I would use only a copyeditor. This is also the advice Dean provides. In other words, we both advise against “development” editors, book doctors, etc. Because how can anyone else possibly know your characters and their story better than you do?

Also, as I’ve said here many times before, I don’t even allow my own critical mind into my writing process, so I definitely would never intentionally allow critical input from anyone else, and that goes double for people who hang out a shingle as a development editor or book doctor.

So why do I recommend that most writers use a copyeditor?

A copyeditor doesn’t directly affect (or touch) the story content. In fact, I used to provide a copyediting service for other writers. I no longer do so because nobody wants to pay for my services.

And I understand. A decade or so ago, we entered the age of The Reader Will Know What I Mean. To a large degree, the importance of actually knowing the nuances of the language, such as a good, solid grounding in grammar and punctuation, went out the window.

Not that good fiction is grammatically correct—it isn’t and it shouldn’t be—and punctuation always should be used not according to some “rules” but to force a particular reaction in the reader. But that solid grounding in grammar and punctuation is necessary in order to break the rules intelligently.

But back to what a copyeditor actually does: From my old copyediting page on my website,

A copyedit consists of a detailed reading for anything that might interrupt the reading of your work. This includes but is not limited to checking and correcting (or suggesting corrections for) the following:

  • punctuation, spelling and wrong-word usage
  • grammar and syntax but remaining true to the diction of the narrator or character (your style), including obviously accidental shifts in verb tense
  • redundancies (usually these are in narrative, and I make recommendations only)
  • consistency in punctuation, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization
  • consistency in character names, clothing, scene details, etc.
  • anything else that might confuse or otherwise interrupt the reader
  • pacing and flow (primarily I’ll recommend reparagraphing to improve pacing and I’ll provide examples from your work)

For more on copyediting, please read my Copyediting page at It’s no longer a “live” page so it’s available only via this link.

Because I don’t personally use a copyeditor, I use a very good first reader. He reads my work for pleasure, and as he reads he notes any misspellings, wrong words (solder for soldier), inconsistencies, and anything else that grabs his attention without him “looking for” it.

He reports those problems to me, and I fix the ones I agree with. When I don’t agree but believe he was confused (confusion is always the fault of the writer, not the reader) I repair whatever confused him. Often, in my case, that’s a mis- or poorly placed preposition that left the meaning of a sentence too vague, things like that.

I hope this helps you understand the difference between a first reader, a copyeditor, and a person who’s just out to make a buck by helping you “develop” your story.

Note: Dan’s response to George’s question might well be different.

One more thing (and why I despise so-called “development” editors)—I personally would never allow anyone else (even my first reader) to tell me how s/he “would have written it.” (grin)

In fact, the last time someone had the gall to tell me how they would have written one of my stories or scenes or novels, I succinctly remember saying, “Yes? Well then, by all means you should.”

And I meant it. Because what do I care? It wouldn’t be the same story anyway, would it?

A Beautiful Time of Year

A friend recently reminded me that not everyone is blessed enough to have their own little slice of desert and asked me to send some pictures. So here y’go.

It’s a beautiful time of year in southeast Arizona, in part because the cottonwoods, mesquites, acacias, and other flora are green, but especially because the yucca bells are out.

Here’s an example in a couple of photos my wife took yesterday. First, a closeup of the bells, then a more inclusive picture.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “I Feel Bad For New Writers… Part 10… More Myths” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 990

Total fiction words for May……… 14404
Total fiction words for 2023………… 97868
Total nonfiction words for May… 26990
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 108680
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 206548

Correction: Yesterday, I erroneously included the words in Dan’s guest post as part of my nonfiction total. I initially reported 930 words instead of 310 words. For anyone who pays attention to such things, the numbers above are correct.

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

2 thoughts on “Do You Need a Copyeditor? and Yucca Bells”

  1. I know that Ray Bradbury recommended that you read your story out loud as a final pass. What do you think of that idea? Would that be a reasonable substitute for a copy editor?

    • Not for a copyeditor, but it would be a suitable substitute for a first reader. But again, the secret is to read it for pleasure, aloud or otherwise, not critically and “looking for” things. If you have a good to excellent grounding in grammar and punctuation, you don’t need a copyeditor.

      Reading out loud works so well because the voice-ear-brain input path is much slower and more attentive than the eye-brain input path. I’ve long touted reading your work aloud as a method of proofreading.

Comments are closed.