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5 Things Copy Editors Wish Writers Knew

Updated: Jan 21

editing process - the dreaded "red pen"

Anyone who has ever been published knows the all-too familiar dread of "the edit." I've been edited countless times and I still get a slight twinge of anxiety right before I send my work to an editor. 

As someone who's been a production manager for a national magazine and who writes and edits, I’ve had the opportunity to see three sides of the writer vs. copy editor war—the writer's, the editor's, and the company's—and this has given me a unique perspective on editing.

boxing match - not what you want to have with a copy editor


Most of the time, an edit is not a personal attack on you as a writer. The editor isn't throwing jabs or upper cuts; they aren't trying to get a TKO—they're just doing their job.

So, there are three things you can do after you receive your edit:

1) You could fall to the floor and lay there writhing in pain like you’ve just been clocked in the jaw by Mike Tyson in his prime;

2) You could throw on your boxing gloves with the sole purpose of pummeling the copy editor so hard they enter another dimension; or

3) You could take a deep breath and attempt to analyze the edits objectively.

Before you choose option one or two, here are 5 things copy editors wish you knew.


If you have a copy editor, this means you’re either working for a company (or you hired someone). In this case, you’re not flying solo like Rambo or The Punisher, you’re part of a team.

You don't want to develop a reputation as someone who is difficult to work with. I can tell you from experience—this will not work in your favor. In fact, it’s a sure-fire way for you to be “escorted” out the door like someone who's had one too many shots and is picking fights with everyone at the bar. 

2. Copy Editors Have Guidelines to Follow too

Remember the whole team thing? Copy editors have instructions and guidelines to go by just like writers do. The liberties given to editors vary from company to company, but not many (if any) copy editors get a free pass to edit articles without some kind of guidance.

I’ll use one of the publications I've worked for as an example. This publication follows the Associated Press (AP) style guide, but there’s a long list of house rules/preferred spellings that trump AP rules. On top of that, there are specific things the magazine wants to see in the articles they publish. As the writer, you may think the copy editor’s changes or questions are ridiculous or unnecessary (I've had my fair share of eye rolls), but they are only attempting to ensure that all the required details are there and that the piece is up to publication standards.

Little Red Riding Hood and the big bad wolf

Before you assign yourself the persona of Little Red Riding Hood and the editor The Big Bad Wolf, ask yourself this question first. Did you follow the guidelines you were given?

3. Just Because You Have an Editor Doesn't Mean You Can Skip the Spelling and Grammar Check

You’re doing yourself a disservice if you send in a sloppy piece of content. If you don't have the money for premium writing software, there's Google Docs, Open Office, Grammarly, and many more free services that can help you improve your copy. There’s really no excuse for glaring misspellings and grammar mistakes.

When your writing is riddled with errors, it gives off the impression that you don't take your work or the editing process seriously. When an editor is consistently given sloppy work, it could jeopardize your position. 

4. Copy Editors Want to See Writers Shine

It might seem like editors enjoy kicking kittens and puppies (aka writers), but this is just not the case. 

While it may seem like your editor went all Charles Manson on your work, it’s not done with malice. Editors want your work to be as good as it can possibly be. It’s a reflection on them too. If you look good, they look good.

Think about it this way. I hear complaints about edits all the time, but I've never heard a writer complaining about the positive feedback they've gotten from readers about their edited article—and guess who gets all the glory—the writer.

But if a reader writes in about a mistake or the wording of a sentence, guess who has to answer for it? The editor. After all, it's their job to make sure your content is error-free and polished.

Bottom line, it may be for semi-selfish reasons, but copy editors want your work to shine.

5. Editors Get Nervous About Their Work Too

It may seem like editors have nerves of steel, and they are a tough bunch, but they're human too. They want you to like their work as much as you want them to like yours. 

Most editors I've worked with love their job and take an immense amount of pride in their work—as they should. Depending on the length and quality of the original copy, editors often spend hours on one piece. Hearing you complain about their work is about as fun as having their fingernails pried off with a screwdriver.

In a Nutshell

If it sounds like I'm pro-editor, it's because I am! They have fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. They are trained to look for things writers often miss because they're too close to their own writing. 

So, the next time your work is edited, try analyzing the edits with an open mind and learn from them. Besides, if you do this, you won't have near as many edits in your future work, and your copy editor will love you for it!

Check out this post for inspiration on how to survive the writing roller coaster ride.

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