Tea and Commas: The Foundations of Line and Copy-Editing Fiction

What you need to know to start offering sentence-level fiction editing

Sentence-level editing is all about fixing spelling and grammar, right? Actually, that’s only scratching the surface. In this course, I’ll teach you the foundations of what you need to know to become a freelance fiction editor.

Red Pen at the Ready!

What do line and copy-editors do?

Line and copy-editing are two slightly different sentence-level editorial services, though often the distinctions between them are blurred when it comes to putting theory into practice.

A copy-editor is responsible for the technical preparation of the author’s material for publication. That means making sure spelling, grammar, punctuation and editorial style are all correct, consistent and appropriate – without damaging the author’s voice. The copy-editor also makes sure the author’s file is prepared for typesetting (page design).

Line editing (also known as stylistic editing) goes a bit deeper. A line editor will help the author improve the artistry of their writing.

How is this different to proofreading?

Proofreading is the final check, after all the line and copy-editing has been completed. A proofreader works on typeset (designed) pages and checks that there are no lingering mistakes after the editing and typesetting process. Line and copy-editors work with text files, usually in Microsoft Word. This course doesn’t cover how to proofread typeset texts.

What does it mean to be a professional editor?

Most line and copy-editors are freelance. Not much sentence-level editing is done in-house by publishers anymore since it’s more cost-effective to outsource this task. As a freelance editor, your clients might be publishers, authors or packagers (companies that manage a variety of services to get a book ready for publication). As a freelance editor, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re appropriately trained and able to do the job you say you can do.

This course aims to be a comprehensive introduction to sentence-level editing (in Word) to help you feel confident in taking the leap to freelance fiction editing.

This course could be for you if …

  • You’re completely new to line and copy-editing, and want to learn how to edit fiction
  • You’ve done some basic training in copy-editing and want to cement your learning
  • You’re a non-fiction editor who wants to move to fiction editing but has no idea where to start (this course might cover a little bit of what you already know)

This course isn’t for you if you don’t want to specialise in fiction editing. It’s also not for you if you’re already an established fiction copy-editor who wants to deepen and refine their practice. (I have another course in development that might be better suited to you!)

How the course works

This is a six-module online course. It’s self-study; there’s no tutor input.

The materials will be available through a dedicated online portal where you can work through the modules at your own pace, starting whenever you like.

You’ll also be able to download PDF versions of the modules to save, print and keep.

There will be exercises for you to do (model answers provided), checklists to download, templates to adapt, quizzes to complete and video tutorials to watch!

Who am I to teach line and copy-editing?

I’ve been running my own freelance editing practice since 2011, specialising in line and copy-editing fiction. At this point, I’ve worked with more than a hundred authors on countless manuscripts.

My qualifications include a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing (UEA) and an MA in Creative Writing (Royal Holloway). I’m also a writer of fiction, having had many short pieces published in literary magazines. I’ve worked in-house at a large publishing company, and have completed in-depth editing training through the Publishing Training Centre and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (where I’m an Advanced Professional Member).

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Course outline

NOTE: You will need Microsoft Word to complete the exercises in this course.

Module 1: Defining the job

  • Discover what line and copy-editing is – and what it isn’t
  • Who hires line and copy-editors?
  • How line and copy-editing fits into the publishing process
  • Artificial intelligence and editing – some thoughts

Module 2: Manuscript structure and marking up

  • Understanding the different parts of a novel
  • How to mark up a manuscript for typesetting
  • How to mark up your edits using Tracked Changes and comments
  • When to leave a query for the author (and how to do this)
  • How to write tactful and useful queries
  • How to properly format a manuscript

Module 3: Editorial tools

  • How to see hidden formatting in Word
  • How to use styles and templates
  • Search and replace – use with caution!
  • The amazing world of macros
  • Software that will make your life easier

Module 4: Style and stylistic consistency

  • Save time and headaches by using a style sheet
  • House style and style guides
  • Dealing with tenses
  • Hyphenation, capitalisation, spelling – all the nuances
  • How to deal with numbers
  • The main differences between UK and US writing styles
  • Styling foreign words and phrases, poetry and displayed verse

Module 5: Story-based consistency

  • The importance of keeping a timeline
  • How to spot plot holes
  • Ensuring character consistency

Module 6: Legalities

  • Copyright (and the internet)
  • Permissions – what they are and why they’re important
  • Recognising and flagging defamation and libel
  • Dealing with trademarks
  • What to do if you come across blasphemy, obscenity and racial hatred

CIEP upgrade points

If you’re a member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, it would probably interest you to know that this course attracts 3 points as part of a CIEP upgrade application! Pretty sweet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Line editing looks at the flow and artistry of the sentences. Copy-editing looks at the mechanics. Proofreading is the final check. A proofreader works on typeset (designed) pages and checks that there are no lingering mistakes after the editing and typesetting process. Line and copy-editors work with text files, usually in Microsoft Word. This course does not cover proofreading.

Nope. This is an online course.

Correct. If this is your first bit of training, there will be more to know before you’ll be ready to work with clients.

No, this course focuses specifically on fiction.

Yes. Probably. If you have absolutely no idea about things like grammar and punctuation, you can learn. This course won’t teach you these things from the ground up, though. However, the companion course (Coffee and Clauses: The Art of Line and Copy-Editing Fiction – currently in development) does go into some detail about the most common rules you need to know. If you’re truly starting from scratch, just keep in mind it might take you a bit longer before you’re knowledgeable enough to hang out your shingle as a professional editor.

No, unless you don’t have Microsoft Word – in which case, you will need to buy it to complete the exercises.

No, sorry. Microsoft Word is the industry standard. It also has all the bells and whistles you need to do the job .

The free online version of Microsoft Word does not support Track Changes or macros, and you can’t add or customise your own styles.

This makes it unsuitable for professional editing, and it also means you won’t be able to complete the set exercises (which ask you to use Track Changes), set up the macros I recommend or practise using styles.

If you’re okay with that and are happy to simply access the learning materials that teach you about these things without being able to put them immediately into practice, then go ahead and use the free version for now. Just be aware of the limitations.

No, I’m afraid not. You’ll need to find a course that specialises in proofreading for that. This course will teach you how to edit in Microsoft Word, which is the standard software used in the industry.

You should set aside 2–3 hours per module, which is around 12–18 hours in total.

No. Though there are some stylistic and language variations between English-speaking countries, we’ll cover this. We’ll be talking about the process of editing in this course more than the specifics.

No, so please purchase mindfully. I like to think I’ve included enough detail for you to make an informed decision about whether this course is right for you, but if you’re still hesitant about buying, feel free to email me first.

I’d originally planned to create just one course, but I realised there was just too much to cover! Most courses out there that teach fiction editing assume you are already a trained editor; they’re often aimed at non-fiction editors who want to transition to fiction. I want my courses to teach you about sentence-level fiction editing, even if you have absolutely no editing experience. The second course, Coffee and Clauses: The Art of Line and Copy-Editing Fiction, goes into much more detail about the nuances of sentence-level editing. Make sure you’re signed up to my mailing list to be kept informed!

Since I don’t know the details of all the other editing courses out there, I can’t really answer this question, I’m afraid. I recommend you take a close look at all the information on this web page, including the details of the course outline, and do the same with the other course you’re looking at. If the other course doesn’t offer the same level of information, you could ask the provider so you’re able to make a more accurate comparison.

You’ll be the best judge of this, so take a close look at all the information provided on this web page and have a think! If there’s something you’d like to know to help you make your decision and I haven’t mentioned it on this page, feel free to drop me an email and I’ll do my best to help.

Whenever you like! It’s self-study and on-demand, so once you’ve purchased it, you can start and complete it in your own time.

Check below for details!

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