Five things to expect from a copy editor

Hiring a copy editor is an exciting step. You’ve been toiling over your story for months, or even years, you’ve worked in feedback from beta readers or a manuscript appraisal (if you haven’t done that see flow chart below) and now you’re ready for that lovely final polish.

But where to start and what to expect?

I recommend you approach a number of editors to make sure you find the right one for you. It’s not just about price, it’s also personality and style. You need to find someone you feel comfortable with.

Browsing through their testimonials, blogs and socials is a great place to start to get a sense of their work and style. After that, if you think they might be for you, I highly recommend having a conversation with them. Not only to talk about the edit, but also to get a feel for whether they are the right fit for you. And coincidentally, a conversation is the first thing on my list of what to expect from a copy editor.

Five things to expect from a copy editor:

1. A conversation

Before quoting, an editor may ask a few questions to learn a little more about you and your project. I like to ask about your writing experience, your imagined reader, your influences. This helps me understand how to approach the edit and how to frame my feedback.

2. A request for an extract

An editor will ask to see an example of your work before they quote. I ask for three extracts: a bit you really like, an average bit, and a gnarly bit. This gives me an idea of what is needed and how long it will take.

Be wary of an editor who quotes a per-word rate without seeing an extract. You may be getting an off-the-shelf edit rather than one that’s tailored for your needs.

 3. A sample edit

Not all editors offer this but I think it’s vital. I want the writer to be confident that I am the right editor for them. A sample edit shows you how the editor is going to approach the work, and importantly, how they communicate their editing suggestions.

4. Explanations and queries (suggestions not corrections)

Changes that fix spelling, grammar or punctuation are straight forward and usually don’t need explanation, but other changes will be accompanied by a polite query or rationale so you can make an informed choice about whether to accept or decline them.

Sometimes the editor may query rather than suggest a change, for example if some dialogue seems out of character, or there’s an inconsistency or logic flaw that they can’t solve.

5. A style sheet

If you are self publishing, a style sheet and word list will be very useful for your proofreader (potentially saving a bit of time/money). A style sheet details choices the editor has made (based on choices you made) about variable spellings (e.g. aunty or auntie) punctuation styling (e.g. single or double quotes), and spellings of technical terms, character names etc. The editor will have made a style sheet as they go along, so it’s okay to ask for one if they haven’t provided it with the final edit.

I hope that’s helpful.

Here’s a handy flow chart if to check if you’re ready for a copy edit. And here’s a link to a post with a transcript of the flow chart if you need it.

Ready for copy edit flow-chart

Please feel free to share if you found this useful or know someone who might.


Good luck intrepid writer.




Lu Sexton

Hello, I’m Lu Sexton. I’m an editor and writing coach. I’ve been working with writers like you since 2009 and I love it. My mission is to help you bring out the best in your writing and get you one step closer to being published.

Lu is not only highly skilful at editing, she is an absolute pleasure to work with. She was able to guide me through the development of my novel while deepening my understanding of the process and improving my abilities for the long term. Not only will your project benefit from Lu’s keen editorial eye but you, yourself, will gain her valuable insights. I’ll be recommending Lu to creatives and corporate businesses alike, as she has a wide knowledge of writing projects.

Simon Taylor

Comedian and author of 'One-night Stand'
After getting eight quotes and four samples from Australian and American editors, I chose Lu Sexton … and I’m blown away with the results.

Lu didn’t just pick up grammatical errors and turns of phrase, she made a few clever suggestions for heightening the drama and comedy without losing my protagonist’s voice. I got back not just an improved manuscript, but a lesson in writing, customised just for me.

Ana Spoke

Author of 'Shizzle Inc'