How to Be a Magazine Copy Editor

[responsive]rachelray01[/responsive]Copyediting: It’s a critical part of any good magazine, and the people who do this work are a special breed.

“Think of a copy editor as the last guy who sees the words. If the magazine is published clean and everything looks great, you’ll have done your job (but don’t expect accolades). If mistakes get in, you’ll hear about it,” writes Amy Kierce, a former Parade Magazine copyeditor.

We like the way she compares copyediting to a game of “Where’s Waldo.” You know the mistakes are in there…and you’ll be danged if you let them slip by. This dog-with-a-bone attitude is what makes a truly great copy editor.

Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to understand your own place in the process. Many beginning copyeditors feel their work ends at proofreading, or simply finding typos and blatant mistakes. Not so, Kierce says.

“Look at copy editing this way: The writer and the developmental editor have stepped back, and now the copy editor has her turn in the studio. If she were looking at a sculpture, she’d take out a washcloth and start polishing.

“Since she’s looking at text, she’ll polish some haphazard language instead. She’ll make sure the style is consistent. She’d sharpen the edges and enhance the piece as a whole, using an editor’s eye. Sometimes, there are problems that nobody has picked up on and the copy editor needs to go back to the editor with questions, and then the editor might have to go back to the writer to work with him on a better solution,” Kierce continues.

Fact checking, grammar patrol and style monitoring are all in the copyeditor’s realm.

“Be a good fact checker for sense and detail. Does the chart make sense? Did you check the page numbers? Does the caption say coffee when you can see the photo has tea? Did the writer toss in more information during a rewrite that hasn’t been fact-checked yet? Those sneaky writers,” chides Kierce.

This kind of deep dive is required for a copyeditor to truly do what they are paid to do, i.e. to make rest of the team look flawless and brilliant. And for anyone interested in a long-term career in magazines, copyediting is a great way to learn the business and hone your skills.