Copyediting entails fine-tuning a manuscript’s many details (usually) after the substantive editing has been completed. The goal is to make a book internally consistent (and, when possible, consistent with commonly accepted “rules” governing grammar and punctuation) while at the same time preserving the author’s style. Copy editors read for voice, point of view, syntax, diction, spelling, punctuation, and grammar, among other elements, and make their changes (or suggestions for changes) directly on the manuscript page. The author then reviews the copyedited manuscript line by line and answers every “OK?” with “yes,” “stet,” or a change of his or her own.
The depth to which copy editors can or do go in their work depends on the length and degree of completion of the manuscript; the time allotted to complete the job; the demands of the given project (fiction? nonfiction? long? with notes and bibliography?); and the specific needs or requests of the editor, author, or the publishing house.
Copy editors refrain from making too many substantive changes or suggestions. Their work is done directly on the manuscript — that is, they make changes, but they don’t meet face-to-face with authors. Absent the opportunity to explain their reasoning, they are discouraged from making changes that fall outside commonly accepted “rules” as outlined in various style manuals. [Author’s Note]