I’ll tell you where to put that comma!


For those who don’t know it yet, in addition to being a writer, in my real life I am a copy editor. That means I’m the person who tells you when you’ve misspelled a word, used a word incorrectly, or used incorrect punctuation. I also make sure you are consistent in your characters and settings and that your research is accurate. What I do not do is look at the big picture. I don’t do plot lines, though if something is really off, I will point it out.

I currently work as a contractor for two publishers as well as private clients. In the past few years, I’ve edited nearly 200 fiction works, 250 non-fiction technical manuals, and even a couple of college text books. Am I an expert? Not by a long shot. Yes, I can spot more than most people, but it is a job that is always changing as the requirements of separate houses or clients change. However, there are some things that are a constant, and that’s what I’m going to address in this article.


One of the things I have to check on for everything I edit is formatting. Though separate publishers often require different styles, most look for certain things. These include extra spaces in front of paragraphs, extra spaces at the end of sentences or extra spaces between sentences. Every house I know of currently requires only one space after periods, not the two most of us grew up with. Also, most require tab indentations and not space indentations at the beginning of paragraphs. All three of these things are easy to search for. If you’re using MS Word, you can search for extra spaces at the beginning of paragraphs by bring up the “Find/Replace” menu and in the first block, type in ^p(space) (put a space in after the p). Replace with ^p (no space after the p). And replace all. To make sure you don’t have an extra space at the end of a sentence, use (space)^p for the find line, then (no space)^p for replace. Finally, for too many spaces between sentences, do a find for two spaces and replace with one space.


Check the names of your characters and make sure you’ve spelled them all the same and that you haven’t given all – or even several – characters names that start with the same letter or sound the same. Also, unless you’ve given good reasons for the change, make sure they look the same at the end as they did at the beginning (blond hair/blue eyes should not suddenly be auburn/green).

Time Lines

Check the times that things happen, and not just the days/weeks/months. I had one author who was having trouble seeing in the dark at 8 p.m. in July (yes, in the U.S.). I’m sorry, but it is not full dark at 8 p.m. in the middle of summer. Winter, yes, but not summer. Another author had a character getting a call at 7 a.m., getting picked up at 8 a.m., and after an hour car trip, she was having lunch at high noon, and an hour later, the sun was setting. Watch out for your times.

Next time, I’ll give you a list of words to look out for.

Vicky Burkholder


3 responses »

  1. I do proofing and copyediting for clients, and that space before a paragraph thing was a killer for a couple of them. I wish I’d known the coding earlier! 🙂 Thanks, Vicky!

    Looking forward to more of this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s