Copy-editors are wonderful people. They’re the people who specialise in making sure all the grammar and punctuation in a manuscript are pristine. Often they are the people who comb through nitty gritty things like Bibliographies and Footnotes to make sure they’re all in the right order and make sense.
Copy-editors work to a brief given by the editorial and production department to make sure a manuscript fits into a house style – for example, it may be a publisher’s house style that all speech is set in single speech marks instead of double speech marks, or that all numbers are written out as words rather than arabic. They’ll also bear things in mind like an author’s narrative style, so that nothing gets accidentally corrected when it should stay as it is, for example where a method such as repetition or stream-of-consciousness has been used as part of a narrative style.
A good copy-editor may seek clarification from you on points of fact or consistency, and often when a corrected manuscript comes back from the copyeditor, it comes with a list of queries. On one of our recent fiction books, this included notes like, ‘early in the book you say this character uses old sandals instead of slippers, but later refer to her wearing slippers after all. Is this intentional?’ And ‘this character has been sectioned and in the first half of the novel the daily dosage of their pills is different to the second half. Do you need to explain to the reader why this is?’. Largely queries concern continuity, either in writing style or in layout and ordering.
An author then has some time to make some final tweaks to fix anything that’s arisen from a copyedit, before the final final version goes into the next stage of the process. It’s very important – for everyone’s sanity and benefit – that the manuscript submitted at this point is final (see Proofreading, below).