• Paulette Bates Alden
  • The Reluctant Self-Publisher: Part 4--Copy Editing: The Best Money I Ever Spent (Or is it...
The Reluctant Self-Publisher: Part 4--Copy Editing: The Best Money I Ever Spent (Or is it Copyediting?)


Chapter One: JeanInga

Call me Inga.  I remember the dark and stormy night Ben was born, how it was the best of times, the worst of times.  I remember how they lay laid him on my chest all mottled pink and squirming, a tuff tuft of brown hair on his tiny billiard ball head.  When I rubbed my cheek against his tiny tender pate head, he clutched my finger with his tiny ones as of if to clam claim me. There he was in my arms, my baby boy, light of my life, fire of my loins, a miracle beyond comprehension.  A miracle because he exited existed!

At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all (Know-it-all?), I have wisdom to impart.

What you don’t know, you don’t know.

Breath-taking, isn’t it!  (Breathtaking?)

What you don’t know, you don’t know, and therefore you can’t catch or correct it.

Luckily, because I hired a copy editor for my manuscript, The Answer to Your Question, which I’m in the (long) process of self-publishing (not ready yet but soon . . .), I do not have to go through the rest of my life with people making fun of me because I wrote about a baby with a tuff of hair on its head. 

A tuff is a rock composed of compacted volcanic ash varying in size from fine sound to coarse gravel.  A baby with a tuff on its head would certainly give the reader pause.

What I meant was a tuft of hair.  Only I thought it was spelled tuff. 

Prior to copy editing, I had considered myself in maybe the 90th percentile of literacy.  Now I feel practically illiterate.   I’m nervous as a haint whenever I have to write something. 

Who would have known that coffeepot is one word. Even though I consistently write towards, as in The horse is running towards the barn, I learned that the preferred spelling is toward.  It’s not as if I didn’t run spellcheck (spell check? spell-check?), and I had readers who apparently don’t know a tuff from a tuft either. But people read for story, not to proof read (proofread?). Readers will catch things, but not everything. That’s what you need a copy editor for.

I debated long and hard about whether to spring for a copy editor. It’s expensive. I got a bid of $770.00 for my 300 page manuscript, at $35.00 an hour, about the going rate. I was really reluctant to spend that money. I went back and forth. I knew it was a pretty clean manuscript; a couple of people who had read the most recent draft told me it was fine the way it was. I asked the copy editor to copyedit the first twenty pages, for which I would pay her, even if we didn’t proceed.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t.  If we did, she could add it to the final bill.

I got the twenty copyedited pages back. It wasn’t too bad. But not good enough. I had left out “on” in a sentence on p. 13. How this was possible as many times as I and others had read that sentence, I cannot say. I had written v-neck for V-neck and 11th Street for Eleventh Street. I thought T-shirt was tee-shirt. Sometimes I used ellipses in dialogue where a dash would have been better.

The copy editor suggested this rewording for a sentence: “I walked back to the living room on legs that felt like a sea creature's back to the living room, hoping I didn't look as bizarre as I felt." Apparently she didn’t want my character Inga walking on legs that felt like a sea creature’s back, even if Inga is feeling bizarre.  She put a space between each ellipsis so they looked better. She inserted lots of commas, which might be grammatically correct but which I felt free to reject because of the rhythm of the sentence or just my sense of how it should read. There weren’t a lot of things, but there were enough to make the decision for me. I needed a copy editor.

I told her when she hit $770.00 to stop, even if she was only on page fifty. But she came in on her bid, and honest to god (honest-to-god?), there was about one thing per page that she corrected.

Mostly hyphenations and compound words. If something should be hyphenated, I didn’t hyphenate it. If something shouldn’t be hyphenated, I made sure to use a hyphen.  My approach to hyphens and compound words seems to be to follow my instincts, which are mostly wrong. (Not to mention that some words can swing either way.) 

Here’s a little test for you:

Joy-ride, joyride or joy ride?

Good looking, good-looking or goodlooking?

nightgown or night gown?

Chevy pickup or pick-up?

simpleminded or simple-minded?

I got 100% of these wrong, along with about 300 others. Who cares, you might ask, if it’s peacoat, not pea coat, or stoplights, not stop lights. 

I do. 

I intend for my self-published novel to be as professional as if it were being published by a press with the highest possible standards. After all, it is. Radiator Press. 

It goes without saying—although here I am saying it—that one needs to have a manuscript edited before publication.  Not just copyedited, but edited by a knowledgeable, experienced reader/critiquer who can point out mega things like structure, pacing, characterization, where to begin, what to put in and what to leave out. You know that already. But if you’re anything like me, you also need someone to catch the picky, micro things a copy editor picks up. 

Confession: I did not have my novel professionally edited. It was another whopper of an expense in an already expensive endeavor, and with the choice between that and copyediting, I decided to go with a copy editor.  I’m an editor myself, but not for one moment did I think I could critique my own book adequately (just like I couldn’t copyedit it adequately).  It’s the equivalent of a surgeon operating on herself.  But I’ve been knocking around the writing world so long as a writer, teacher and editor that I had some good writer/reader/friends who could give me critical feedback, sometimes in exchange for my reading their books.  I had various people read various drafts, and they were invariably helpful in ways large and small.  My agent also edited it closely, based on comments we had gotten from editors.  And Jeff, my husband, is not only a superb editor but a Christian martyr for the numbing number of times he edited the thing over several years. 

No one is more cognizant than I (me?) that not everyone can afford an editor and/or a copy editor.  I’ve got one foot in that camp myself. (And if you’re like me, which I hope you’re not, right in the middle of writing all these checks for self-publishing, you’ll break off part of a molar and need a crown to the tune of $990.00; I’m not saying it goes with the territory of self-publishing, but you might consider eating only soft foods until your book is out . . .Your teeth are under a lot of pressure from all that grinding.)

So don’t feel bad if you can’t afford editing, and don’t feel doomed to a manuscript that is full of big boners or small typos and tuffs. Do the best you can yourself.  But then before you send it out or self-publish it, find people who can read your work to see things you can’t see yourself–because what you don’t know, you don’t know. 

But someone else will. 

There are actually some helpful rules regarding hyphens.  I must have missed school that day. These are from http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp:

  • Look it up in a dictionary.  If you can’t find it in the dictionary, treat the noun as separate words.

Examples: eyewitness, eye shadow, eye-opener.  (Note: all these words had to be looked up in the dictionary to know what to do with them!)

  • Phrases that have verb, noun, and adjective forms should appear as separate words when used as verbs and as one word when used as nouns or adjectives


The engine will eventually break down.  (verb)

We suffered a breakdown in communications. (noun)

Please clean up your room. (verb)

That superfund site will require specialized cleanup procedures. (adjective)

  • Compound verbs are either hyphenated or appear as one word. If you do not find the verb in the dictionary, hyphenate it.


To air-condition the house will be costly.

We were notified that management will downsize the organization next year. 

  • Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.


Friendly-looking man (compound adjective in front of a noun)

Friendly little girl (not a compound adjective)

Brightly lit room (brightly is an adverb describing lit, not an adjective)

Correct test answers (I think): joy ride; good-looking; nightgown; Chevy pickup; simple-minded or simpleminded. 

And when I ran spellcheck on this draft, it preferred pea coat despite my dictionary spelling it peacoat. Go figure. 

Good luck!

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  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Lynn,

    I've just spent some enjoyable time browsing your website.  Wow, you've done a terrific job with that!  So much to offer writers. Congratulations.  And thanks for letting us know about your manuscript consultation service.  I agree you're reasonably priced, so folks should check you out.  Good wishes! 

  • Hope A. Perlman

    I love this! I have been noticing how I struggle with hyphenation. I was an English major. You'd think I'd know these rules, but my grammar's much more creative, shall we say, than it was when Mrs. Griffith taught it to me in 10th grade. 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi Cassie,

    I'm so glad you following my little saga, and I'm particularly glad that you let us know you do copyediting.  I hope writers on this site will use your services.  I don't know that you'll have to learn much if anything about ebooks for your job of copyediting, but maybe you're just interested.  I had my book copyedited before I sent it to the formatter for creating the files I need for the ebook and POD (Rob Siders, at www.52novels.com -- my blog next week has more info on that).  So my copy editor only had to deal with a Word document as she normally would.  Thanks for the good wishes. 

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    You learned some great things here, and I'm glad you're sharing them. For what it's worth, I' a pretty reasonably priced manuscript consultant. One of the services I offer is copy-editing. If anyone's curious, go to www.writeradvice.com and click on Manuscript Consultation. Maybe I can help you out.

    B. Lynn Goodwin


    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers 

  • Cassie Tuttle

    Hi Paulette,

    I'm following your self-publishing journey (and especially enjoyed the latest entry about copyediting, since I'm a freelance copyeditor).  I recently took on a new client who wants to do an e-book, so it's time for me to learn about "alternative" publishing.  Up until now, all of my clients have been university presses or academic/legal publishers.  So I appreciate hearing about your experiences.

    Good luck!


  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Kristen.  I think it's "ninety-eth . . ." That's what my instincts tell me, at least.  I hope you've been good, because Santa will know, you know.  Good luck with your wish!   

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Bubblecow.  I like that, Elisabeth.  But shouldn't it be Bubble-cow?  Just joshin'.  It's nice of you to pass along a service and person that you can personally recommend.  Thanks! 

  • Kristen Elise

    Thank you for the reality check.  I, too, would have considered myself in the 90th percentile (or is it ninetieth?  Ninety-eth?) percentile until I totally FLUNKED your little pop quiz!  

    Santa, please bring me a copy editor...

  • Elisabeth Zguta Publishing

    Hi Paulette - you are so right.

    I was amazed at the words that should be hyphen etc. I used a service called Bubblecow, and I
    was very pleased with the editing of Caroline, who handled my manuscript.
    I agree with you, everyone who self publishes needs a good edit (or two).

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Crystal.  I totally get the money thing. I'm really sorry to hear your advertising dollars didn't pay off.  I am facing the publicity and promotion "challenge" (as soon as I manage to upload or unload, as I have come to think of it) my novel onto Kindle and Createspace.  I bet you're perfectly fine in terms of your English! 

  • Crystal Mary Lindsey

    Now this has me thinking.. I was always good at grammar at school, or rather, we called it English. Now I am considering how wrong I probably am. It's scary. The first book I had published I used every service I could get and it cost me thousands. Needless to say my sales are not even in the hundreds, so now I am reluctant to pay out on advertising, as I see it as more money lost. Thank you with your assistance and information above. I will be watching my verbs, nouns and adjectives from now on.