Do I Have to Make the Changes My Copyeditor/Proofreader Suggests?

You got your copyedited or proofread manuscript back, and you disagree with an edit (or many edits) that your copyeditor or proofreader suggested. This situation happens regardless of the type of writing—fiction, nonfiction, business, blogs, and so on. What do you do when this happens to you?

There are many reasons that a copyeditor or proofreader may have suggested an edit. Perhaps she didn’t like the way the sentence flowed. Maybe she felt that it was repetitive usage of a phrase or a word. Possibly there’s a hard rule in a style guide that dictates the change. Perhaps you have a gut feeling about which one of these is the case and can act accordingly.

Sentence Flow

Sentence flow is probably best left to your style as the author. It’s your writing that is going to be presented to the world, and it should be representative of your ideas. The copyeditor/proofreader may have simply suggested the change because she felt her suggested way flowed better and wanted to give you that option. I know I sometimes like the way I wrote something, but then when someone else makes a suggestion, I like it much better!

As an author, particularly when you’re writing fiction, you may have poured your heart and soul into the words on the page. As such, it may be hard to get what seems like criticism of your writing. Keep in mind that there’s a reason you hired the copyeditor/proofreader: You wanted it to be as perfect as possible. The copyeditor/proofreader is not out to get you; she is trying to help you on your journey. Try to keep an open mind and not take suggested edits personally. All parties involved are trying to work towards the same goal—a good final product.

You’re the author; it’s ultimately your choice. Try to be open to suggestions, but go with your gut on what feels right to you.

Repetitive Usage

If you suspect you may have used that wording or phrasing often, try doing a “find” to search for that phrase or word and see how often it appears. If it is the case that it’s used repeatedly, I suggest taking the copyeditor’s/proofreader’s suggested edit (as long as it doesn’t change your intended meaning, particularly in business writing) or making a different edit yourself.

Repetitive usage stands out to the reader but often doesn’t stand out to the writer. That’s part of the reason you hire a copyeditor/proofreader—to be the fresh set of eyes on your writing before your audience sees it. If you don’t like the way the copyeditor/proofreader changed it, then change it to something different from either version.

Style Guide

Grammar and punctuation are often hard rules and allow for little flexibility. Other times, there are options. For example, commas, em dashes, and parentheses can all be used to set off an interrupter phrase within a sentence. See these examples where the phrase “my favorite holiday” interrupts the sentence:

We celebrate Christmas, my favorite holiday, with my family. (regular emphasis)

We celebrate Christmas—my favorite holiday—with my family. (increased emphasis)

We celebrate Christmas (my favorite holiday) with my family. (reduced emphasis)

Remember that your copyeditor/proofreader is trained and has studied these grammar and punctuation rules. A copyeditor’s/proofreader’s expertise is another reason you hired her. It’s what she uses to make a living, so if she’s unsure of a rule, she’s going to research it. Plus, she wants her work to be as good as possible to make you happy and hopefully earn a referral or testimonial. As long as the change isn’t completely odious to you, you should probably trust your copyeditor/proofreader and accept the edit; she probably had a good reason for suggesting it.

Communicate with Your Copyeditor/Proofreader

Ideally, your copyeditor/proofreader would have requested a sample from you and discussed the project with you before providing her pricing and beginning work. This sample and communication will help your copyeditor/proofreader know if there’s anything that may cause questions later and needs to be discussed before work begins. However, once the copyeditor/proofreader starts digging in to the material, she may have some questions for you. So hopefully you and your copyeditor/proofreader have established a working relationship where you each feel comfortable with the material and with communicating with each other.

A good copyeditor/proofreader will be sensitive to the author’s style and will ask for author preferences on things like the level of copyedit (and thus rewriting) and items that are somewhat flexible in grammar as well as inquiring whether you have a style guide. If you and your copyeditor/proofreader have good communication throughout the process, you should be mostly on the same page at the delivery of the final copyedited/proofread document. However, you may still have some lingering questions on their suggested edits.

If you’re unsure why a change was made, and you can’t come to terms with it using the suggestions above, then talk to your copyeditor/proofreader. Ask her why she made the edit. If she has the time, she will probably be happy to discuss one or a few suggestions in more detail.

I enjoy teaching others, so if an author politely asks me why I suggested an edit, I’m happy to explain. If it’s a grammar or punctuation rule, I will expound upon the rule and, depending on the situation, give alternatives. Plus, you might learn something that improves your writing and reduces the cost of copyediting/proofreader in the future. I’m also happy to re-review a few sentences that the author decided to change from either the original writing or my edit.

Hopefully all copyeditors/proofreaders are open to communicating about their suggested edits after the work has been copyedited/proofread. It doesn’t hurt to ask the question if you’re really unsure about something. Copyeditors/proofreaders want you to be happy with your final product and want their name to be associated with something that they are proud to have worked on, so they will likely be open to follow up questions.

However, keep in mind that your copyeditor/proofreader makes a living by charging for copyediting/proofreading, so don’t be offended if she can’t take the time to go over many questions about your manuscript; she has to keep her business running and maintain her personal life. Try to limit your questions to the few that you are really unsure about, or offer to pay for her time to review it with you in more detail. If you suspect that this is something you want, go ahead and discuss it before work ever begins so that the copyeditor/proofreader can plan her time, workload, and pricing accordingly.

If communicating with your copyeditor/proofreader doesn’t work out for some reason, or her reason comes down to preference, it’s ultimately your name on display as the author, so go with your gut. You know your audience, you know your material, you know what you intended. Copyediting/proofreading is a tool to help improve your writing and make it as good as possible before it’s released to your audience; it’s not the final say.

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