5 Warning Signs of a Bad Copy Editor

copy editorAs we’ve said here before, if you’re doing a lot of writing for your business, you’re going to want to hire a copy editor to make sure you look your best. A good copy editor will proofread your work for grammar, spelling, punctuation, clarity of content, thorough thought processes, and will make constructive, well-thought-out observations to help you make your work as good as it can possibly be. He or she will be your partner at the writing desk, forging your thoughts into polished, sharpened blades that cut directly to the core of your chosen subject.

A bad copy editor, on the other hand, could very well make your life a nightmare. Bad editors rush through projects, miss typos, accept every piece of work that comes across their desk, don’t read completely, don’t listen, and most importantly – they aren’t working to make you look good, they’re working to make themselves feel good. Let’s take a look at some warning signs that your copy editor may not be all that he or she claims to be.

  1. Your copy editor’s name may as well beSeñor Mysterioso.” This is the copy editor who blows into town one day with the tumbleweeds. He or she has great industry connections and years of experience, but assures you that due to confidentiality issues, those names must remain forever sealed inside the vault of mystery. This should go without saying, but if a copy editor candidate won’t tell you who they have worked for or what sort of work they’ve done, that’s a red alert button. Call in the local sheriff and haul ’em off to the hoosegow. Or, you know, just don’t hire them.
  2. He knows a guy who would vouch for him, but he lost his phone number. The copy editor who has no references is a copy editor who has no job. Any copy editor worth his or her salt should be able to point to at least one or two people who will attest to his or her abilities as a copy editor. Some copy editors like to play the NDA card with this, keeping their references under lock and key – and that happens, sometimes as editors and writers we are bound by non-disclosure agreements, but I’ve signed a few, and none of them have ever included clauses about not using the client as a reference.
  3. His samples are messy, full of excuses, or invisible. A copy editor who has no samples is resigned to a similar fate as the copy editor who has no references. Your copy editor candidate had better be able to point you to glowing examples of his or her work. If they point out messy, amateurish copy, or make excuses such as “the client wouldn’t listen to my feedback,” then be very suspicious. We all have clients who have “interesting” interpretations of grammar and refuse to be corrected, but if I’m a copy editor, I’m not going to use those pieces as examples of how great my work is. A good copy editor will have well-written, clearly constructed samples showcasing their abilities as editors.
  4. He can’t tell you why it’s better his way, it just is. When a copy editor suggests changes for a piece you’ve written, he or she should be able to explain the reasoning behind every single one of the changes. Copy editing isn’t about shifting your writing style to another simply because the editor prefers things a certain way. Any stylistic changes should be explained. For instance, a copy editor may suggest changing a sentence from passive voice to active voice, because as an advertorial piece where the goal is to drive sales of a product, active voice is more immediate and will drive readers to action where passive voice may not. Ask for thorough notes from your copy editor. If he or she can’t do that, find another one.
  5. He costs less than a ramen noodle dinner with a glass of cheap wine. If your copy editor’s pay rate sounds too good to be true, guess what? It probably is. Copy editors will generally earn between 3-5 cents per word on an editing job. Ask for a quote for the entire job, as well as an estimate as to how long it will take, and consider all these numbers when you’re looking for the right copy editor. The editor who deliberately lowballs bids to get jobs is usually not going to be the one for you. If he or she is willing to work for less than a penny per word, then he or she is not going to be spending a great deal of time paying attention to what you’ve written, and a rushed editing job is a sloppy editing job. Pay the el cheapo copy editor, and you’ll just end up paying again – for the higher-priced, more-thorough copy editor next time.
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