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Hard-copy Editing: Why Request It?

By February 15, 2024No Comments

In this digital age hard-copy editing has almost disappeared. What is hard-copy editing? It refers to editing a printed manuscript rather than a digital file.

The terminology can be confusing, so let me clarify.

  • Line editing refers to work performed on a book manuscript to correct grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors. It can also address errors with point of view, logic, and more.  
  • Copy editing means line editing newspaper or magazine articles or copy for brochures or advertisements. It can also refer to a final edit for mechanical errors before a book is designed in book format.
  • Electronic editing means line editing the digital file of a manuscript.
  • Hard-copy editing means line editing the printed—hard copy—form of a manuscript.

Hard-copy Editing

Editors of hard copies usually use red ink and proof marks to indicate changes. Proof marks can differ from editor to editor, so I include a sheet that explains my proof marks whenever I edit hard copy.

Why is hard-copy editing becoming outdated? It’s time-consuming for the author.

Before requesting hard-copy editing, authors must first ensure that their manuscripts conform to standard manuscript format, also referred to as SMF. SMF requires that the manuscript be double-spaced, in twelve-point Times New Roman type, and have margins of at least one inch on all sides. The first line of every new paragraph must be indented five spaces. The type has to be flush left, not justified. No extra space can appear between paragraphs except to indicate a scene change. Every page has to have a header with the title, author’s name, and page number. SMF has other requirements too.

Once the manuscript is correctly formatted, authors must print it, pack it in a box, haul it to the post office or pay for postage online, and then mail the box to the editor. Delivery can take several days. Later, when the editor returns the manuscript filled with proof marks, delivery again takes a few days. When the edited manuscript arrives, the author must learn what the proof marks mean and then go through their digital file and type in every change the editor suggests, character by character, word by word, line by line, and page by page. The changes can number in the thousands, depending on the quality of the manuscript and the diligence of the editor. Inputting changes can take an author many weeks, depending on the volume of changes and the length of the manuscript. The process requires diligence and can add errors. It also wastes paper. The hard copy becomes useless once the author inputs the corrections to the digital file.

Because hard-copy editing is harder on both the author and the editor, few remaining editors still offer it. I do because it’s how I learned to edit before the advent of computers and because some of my clients like to work the original way.

Despite all the work, hard-copy editing has the potential to be more accurate than electronic editing. Studies have proved that people see more details on a printed page than they do on a computer monitor. For purposes of accuracy, then, some authors prefer to go to the trouble to print, pack, and mail a printed copy and then make all the changes to their digital files themselves. They know that with hard-copy editing, they get the best editing job possible.

In addition to accuracy, another possible perk about hard-copy editing is that the editors who still offer it are often more seasoned editors with more experience than younger ones.

Electronic Editing

With electronic editing the editor works on a copy of the author’s digital file. Digital files are deliverable with the push of a computer button. No waiting and no paper, printing, or postage required. In addition the format isn’t as vital in a digital file. It can be single-spaced and in any legible font.

With electronic editing editors use track changes to show their changes. Authors don’t have to learn how to interpret proof marks or type in the changes. All the changes show up clearly in a color other than black, and the author needs only to click on the change to accept or reject it. Authors who agree with all the changes can click on the option to accept all, and the editing is finished—no mailing back and forth, no learning proof marks, no tedious typing in every change. No wasted time or paper.

Human Factor

Whether choosing hard-copy editing or electronic editing, you must work a human editor, rather than a robot or artificial intelligence. Only a human being can decipher minor differences, select the right word choice when an author makes a wrong one, and have the knowledge of how to make a manuscript the best it can be for other human beings to read. Human beings, however, can make mistakes. For example, we can add a typo when we work on a digital file. We can overlook a misspelled word when editing printed manuscripts. Again, we are human.

The industry standard allows for a 5 percent error rate in editing. Professional editors do their best, but mistakes happen, no matter which form of editing you pick. Still, the prevalent belief is that hard-copy editing results in fewer errors, while electronic editing simplifies and speeds the process.

Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, an editing firm she founded in 1992. The author of the five-time award-winning book on creative writing, Write In Style, available on Amazon, Bobbie lives in metro Atlanta and works with clients throughout the world.

Bobbie Christmas

Editor Bobbie Christmas is your book doctor. She can also be your mentor, ghostwriter, copywriter, and writing and publishing consultant. After spending decades writing and editing for a living, Bobbie became a much-sought-after seminar and workshop leader. She began Zebra Communications in 1992 in Atlanta, Georgia, to provide professional editing services to publishers and to writers like you.

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