My Kingdom for a Copy Editor

1 Jun

My sister-in-law was visiting from Montana over the holiday weekend. In the course of our catching up on each other’s lives I mentioned that I’d started a blog since we had last met. Being a gracious guest, she asked to see it. So, I gave her a glimpse of a recent post I thought she might enjoy.

Within four sentences she found a mistake.

“You left a word out,” she said helpfully.

By the time she finished the short piece she had found two other minor errors. Embarrassed, when I read through it again later, I found yet another.

None of these copy editing screwups would have prevented an intelligent reader from understanding my point. But they also would have glaringly indicated to the same intelligent reader that this blogger is none too smart.

I’ve long-maintained that I’m my own worst copy editor. I see words that aren’t there because my mind’s eye imagines them to be written. I use a plural form when the singular is called for, or vice versa in my attempt to minimize the use of masculine form when gender is not necessary. I am guilty of mistyping their for they’re. I should use “had” more often for clarity. Sadly, I’m not 100% correct 100% of the time on noun-verb agreement; not because I don’t know, but because I don’t catch it during my revisions. The list of my grammatical pratfalls is long. And I haven’t even touched on punctuation.

What I would give for the services of a copy editor.

To me, copy editors are the unsung heroes of publishing. They make good ideas, poorly expressed, readable. They polish good text into great copy. They make hacks like me look good. Um, pardon me. Read well.

In the low-rent world of blogs, copy editors are the first economic victims. But the real people who suffer are the poor, innocent readers who must slog through the self-edited blog.

All-too-often, as I gingerly re-read my Croisan Views posts I come across one screwup or another. My chagrin runs from my stupid toes to my errant fingertips. I wish I were a better copy editor of my own work. But I’m not. So I sincerely apologize to anyone who stumbles upon these flawed pages before I can correct my errors.

In the meantime, I have a question. Is it copyeditor or copy editor?


10 Responses to “My Kingdom for a Copy Editor”

  1. Michele DeFilippo June 1, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the post; it warmed this copy editor’s heart.

    I would point out, though, that in the fifth paragraph, you used “to” instead of “too.” (Just trying to help.)

    You also used hyphens in a few places I wouldn’t, but I’m willing to let that slide. 🙂

    Around here, we still use “copy editor,” although a newsletter for copy editors switched its title to Copyediting last year (

    Another one of your former CW colleagues also noted the unfortunate juxtaposition of a Google ad for “Free and quick proofreading” underneath your post. We’ll just pretend we didn’t see that.


    • meh2meh June 1, 2010 at 9:14 am #

      Thank you, Michele, especially for catching my wrong “to.” Have now corrected it.

      I noticed that Random House uses “copyeditor.” But the word editors there tend to be a bit on the fringe.

      As for the Google ad, it simply underscores the limits of automation. We all know there’s a big difference between a copy editor and a proofreader. Google bots, it seem, do not.

  2. Sarah June 1, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Thanks for the props to copy editors!

    There’s no rule either way on “copy editor” or “copyeditor”. You’ll see it both ways. I call myself a copy editor, but others use the other term. It’s all good. 🙂

  3. Robert L. Mitchell June 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Copy editors are the safety net that prevents writers from looking like complete and total idiots.

    While I have no safety net for my blog, I do for features. Just today Bob Rawson sent a note from the Computerworld copy desk.

    Bob wanted to know if “Dyan Larson” was a he, as indicated in the story, or a she. Definitely a he, I replied, still ignorant to the fact that I had dropped the “l” in Dylan’s first name.

    This time it was my features editor who came to the rescue. Copied on the e-mail exchange, he pointed to two online references to Larson which both gave the poor man his “l.”

    Now if I could just remember whether period ending that last sentence goes inside or outside of the quotation mark…

  4. Michael T June 1, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    The Google Tag Ad at the end of the page was ironically hilarious. In case it changes with every page load:

    Free & Quick Proofreading
    Instantly Proofread Your Texts And Correct Grammar And Punctuation Now

  5. Elizabeth June 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    Alas…you (plural) only notice us when we’re not there…

    • meh2meh June 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

      Not so, Elizabeth. Speaking for myself, I have always been a huge supporter of the copy desk at every publication I have ever managed. That’s why I miss copy editors so much now. Without a good Desk, every EiC I’ve ever met knows s/he will have a lesser publication.

      • Elizabeth Treacy June 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

        What I meant to imply was that when we copy editors do our job, we are invisible in the background, sort of like puppet masters behind the screen (of course, to many a writer, we are quite visible), and that when our services are not availed of, only then does the public at large notice the results. But even then, much of that very public doesn’t realize that it was the copy editor who was missing in the process. Not a lament, all of the above (well, maybe a little bit), because many of us (I would guess) like that invisibility. 🙂

  6. Best cellulite cream June 2, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Well done.
    You maintain a nice blog.
    Thank you for posting this.


  1. Commenting on Comments « Croisan Views - July 18, 2010

    […] there’s the plain ignorance on display. As noted earlier in this blog, professional writers need copyeditors. So, I do not hold it against readers when they post comments rife with typos or wrong subject-verb […]

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