This post is the second installment of CEL’s series on the process of academic book publishing. We are demystifying the process of how your research becomes a final product. If you missed our first post, check out Jessie Moore on What’s the process for publishing a (SoTL) book?

Once an author has completed their manuscript, it’s first submitted to the acquiring or series editor. The editor will review the work, and they will sometimes send it out to additional reviewers. Generally, they will send back extensive comments within a few weeks, and authors will have time to tweak or rewrite certain portions of the book. On the next submission of the manuscript, the editors may want additional changes, or they may give the book the green light to move into production. The production process is long, with many players involved. I’m Jennie Goforth, the Center for Engaged Learning’s managing editor – the person who shepherds manuscripts through the production process.

In this post, we’ll cover the first step in production: copyediting.

Why have a copyeditor?

Your publisher will have a copyeditor read through and mark up your manuscript. Why? The first goal, of course, is to catch errors, typos, and inconsistencies that you and your acquiring editor may have missed. A fresh pair of eyes is always useful to notice problems that authors may be too close to see. Second, the copyeditor will make the manuscript adhere to your publisher’s style – things like using the serial comma, spelling out numbers, capitalizing titles, etc. Here at CEL, we (like many academic publishers) follow the Chicago Manual of Style. And lastly, copyeditors prepare the manuscript for typesetting by removing formatting, extra paragraph returns, etc. that will get in the way once the document is entered into the layout software.

Some authors may be wary of having a stranger messing around with their carefully written text. But good copyeditors will follow the three watch words given to us by Carol Saller, a well-known editor at Chicago University Press (2009, 14):

  1. Carefulness – A copyeditor will read through your manuscript sloooooowly (usually twice!), looking at every single word and every single piece of punctuation, examining it to make sure it’s correct and appropriate.
  2. Transparency – Your copyeditor will show you every change they make, usually using Track Changes in Word. There won’t be any surprises in your final text.
  3. Flexibility – A good copyeditor is going to give you some leeway. If you feel very strongly that that word should be capitalized, or that quote should be introduced by a colon, not a comma – then that’s okay. Our ultimate goal is clarity for the reader. If readers won’t be confused by it, then we’ll often go with the author’s preference.

Your copyeditor will do their best to catch all errors, query anything they think needs clarification, and ensure that the writing will make the most sense to the greatest number of readers. No copyeditor will catch every single error, and a lot of their decisions are subjective. The Copyeditor’s Handbook says “Ideally, copyeditors set right whatever is incorrect, unidiomatic, confusing, ambiguous, or inappropriate without attempting to impose their stylistic preferences or prejudices on the author.” Copyediting shouldn’t change your writing substantially, just make it a bit tidier.

What are the most common problems we see? Problems with parallel structure among clauses and subject/verb agreement, missing or incorrect citations or cross references, and some intricacies of grammar that are tricky for many, like that vs. which, misusing colons and semicolons, etc. Want to test your inner grammarian? Try the Chicago Style Workouts, quizzes from the folks at the Chicago Manual of Style.

The process

Copyediting can take anywhere from 3-8 weeks, depending on the complexity of the manuscript and how heavily edited the text needs to be. The copyeditor will use Track Changes in Word to show every edit they make. They will also create a style guide for your book, which is a record of every decision they’ve made during the edit (for example, “OK” not “okay”; spell out numbers under 100; course names should be roman type, headline style). This document helps them be consistent about stylistic choices throughout the manuscript, and it also communicates those choices to the authors.

Authors will then have time to review the copyedited manuscript. Your copyeditor will send you the Word document with Track Changes turned on, so you can review all the edits that were made. You’ll also need to answer all the questions (queries) posed by the copyeditor. Each publisher has slightly different directions on how to respond to the copyedited manuscript.

How to help your copyeditor

  • Follow all formatting guidelines given to you before submission. It may seem like an endless list of tedious details, but all those rules will save time and effort later in the production process.
  • Be responsive if your copyeditor sends you questions during the process. They may have questions that they need answers to before they can move forward with editing.
  • Remember that your copyeditor is not your adversary, nor are they a snooty know-it-all. Think of them as a partner. Understand that they’re not attacking you when they edit your work – they’re working with you to make your work communicate itself best to the largest number of people.

In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss typesetting, the next phase of production. If you have questions, hit us up in the comments or on Twitter @CEL_Elon!


  • Einsohn, Amy, and Marilyn Schwartz. 2019. The Copyeditor’s Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications. Fourth ed. Oakland: University of California Press.
  • Saller, Carol. 2009. The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Jennie Goforth is the Center for Engaged Learning’s Managing Editor. She works with authors to shepherd their work from proposal through production in the Center’s Open Access Book Series. She also manages production of book websites and supplemental materials for the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching.

How to cite this post:

Goforth, Jennie. 2020. “Academic Book Publishing: What Happens During Copyediting?” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 6, 2020.