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  • Sara Israel

What Copyediting Is All About

When I tell people I’m a copyeditor, reactions range from polite confusion (isn’t there software for that now?) to strong opinions about language usage that the speaker thinks I must share (isn’t the job of an editor to preserve the Rules?). From the outside, copyediting can seem like a fussy, pedantic profession, a process of fiddling about with hyphens and consulting doorstop-sized volumes about fusty grammar rules.

It’s true that we editors often spend our time parsing fine distinctions in meaning and grappling with details like the placement of punctuation. And for a small craft business whose main focus is not on writing but on selling products and services that are largely visual, editing may seem irrelevant altogether. So as someone who both loves the craft industry and values clear, concise writing, I want to discuss what copyediting really is and look at a few of the ways editing can bring value to your craft business, when it matters, and when it doesn’t.

What copyediting is about

In Anne Fadiman’s essay “Inset a Carrot” [Insert a Caret] from her wonderful book Ex Libris, she describes the matching rapt expressions of her family one night as they peruse the offerings at a fancy restaurant and subsequently realize that, rather than choosing their dinners, each of them is taking an inventory of the spelling errors on the menu. Like it or not, there are readers out there who can’t help but spot silly errors, and will quietly tally them (or, sometimes, gleefully point them out). These may not be your average customers, but even the average person will trip up over confusingly punctuated sentences, convoluted wording, and silly typos. At a minimum, editing takes care of these sorts of mistakes. It makes you look professional and says you take your business seriously.

But good editing goes beyond damage control. It’s about making sure your message is coming across the way you intended. An editor can help keep readers engaged by improving the flow of your writing, making sure the most interesting and relevant points are coming across, and clearing up any ambiguity. An editor can help you develop ideas further and point out sensitive topics that need careful handling.

Although editing is most often associated with writing-heavy fields like publishing and academia, businesses use editors all the time: for marketing materials, business publications, product messaging, and other communications. In the context of a craft business, an editor can bring clarity to patterns, tutorials, and any kind of instructional writing where unambiguous language is key. In your marketing efforts, an editor can help you cut to the heart of your message, clearing away fluff and focusing on what matters. When you’re writing an “about” page or artist statement, or when you’re launching an important campaign or project in your business, an editor can help you get the message right.

What copyediting ISN’T about

When I was a teenager, I confess I would sometimes snicker at spelling and grammar mistakes and feel tempted to give others the benefit of my superior knowledge. Grammatical correctness came naturally to me, which gave me a holier-than-thou feeling that (admit it) we all enjoy sometimes. A particular bugbear of mine was the word “myriad,” which I was convinced was only legitimate in its adjective form (myriad mistakes) and not as a noun (a myriad of mistakes).

Thankfully, over the years I have outgrown this obnoxious tendency, and have also trained professionally as an editor, during which process I learned that there’s a lot more to editing than applying a bunch of hard-and-fast rules to a piece of writing. (In fact, many of the “rules” we learn in school are not rules at all but style choices. For example, the noun myriad is perfectly legitimate and has been in use longer than the adjective, according to language authority Bryan Garner.)

An editor is not a fusspot, bending over the menu at dinner to giggle at spelling mistakes. It’s part of our job to spot these mistakes and fix them, but we’re not here to give you a slap on the wrist. Our role is to stay abreast of best practices in language and help apply them to your writing so your communications are clear, current, and consistent.

So when do you need an editor?

Just about any piece of writing will be improved by the eye of an editor. But editing is a professional service that takes time and money, and if you’re running a small craft business, you probably aren’t hiring an editor to read every newsletter and social media post* (although there are times when it might be helpful). A lot of everyday messaging is ephemeral and relatively low-stakes.

But whenever you’re working on a project that’s going to stick around, editing is worth considering—especially when it’s a project that’s central to your business and may affect the way your brand is perceived. Patterns and tutorials, articles, product catalogs, and books: all these things benefit from editing, and creating a high-quality product will reflect positively on your business over time.

Editing is also invaluable at times when your messaging is most important. If you’re launching an important marketing campaign or introducing a new aspect of your business, or if you’re creating a website or establishing a presence in a new community, an editor can help you make your message clear and engaging.

In summary…

Copyediting is all about the details—but as any craftsperson knows, details make the difference between a so-so project and one we’re proud of. When you’re writing content that’s going to stick around and help define your business, working with an editor will help you make sure the writing is all you want it to be.

*If you’re not working with an editor on your everyday communications, I do advise that you have a friend, family member, or colleague read through them, or that you take a break and reread them—slowly—before sending them out. This often prevents the kind of silly error that we kick ourselves about later.

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