I said a long while back that Iâ€™d talk about my preference for â€œcopyeditorâ€ over â€œcopy editor,â€ and now seems as good a time as any to do so.
For my field, â€œcopy editorâ€ as two words has never made much sense to me, for a number of reasons. First, nothing I edit is referred to as â€œcopyâ€; I edit manuscripts. Thus, the term refers not to what I edit (as might be the case with â€œnewspaper editorâ€ or â€œfiction editorâ€), but to what I do, which is â€œcopyeditâ€â€”and according to Merriam Websterâ€™s New Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (Web11), the dictionary most often used by fiction publishers, that verb is one word.
Itâ€™s puzzling, then, that Web11 specifies the noun â€œcopy editorâ€ as two words, despite the fact that they have â€œproofreaderâ€ as one word and lo and behold even have â€œcopywriter.â€ Why â€œcopyeditorâ€ is treated differently than those terms is completely beyond me. Even the editors over at The Chicago Manual of Style seem to show frustration with it when they note, â€œFinally, a caveat: as our own preference for â€œcopyeditorâ€ has shown (Websterâ€™s lists â€œcopyeditâ€ [v.] but â€œcopy editorâ€ [n.]), it is not always easy for a specialist community to impose its own usage on the rest of the world.â€
For a long time, I had â€œcopy editorâ€ on my cards and blog, even though I never liked the spelling, because I feared turning off potential employers. As I became more confident in my skill, though, I decided it was quite likely that any managing editor who took issue with â€œcopyeditorâ€ was unlikely to be happy with other exceptions I allowâ€”exceptions based on logic and sound and common use, just as â€œcopyeditorâ€ is. Thus, for instance, even though most SF authors prefer â€œairlockâ€ to â€œair lockâ€â€”and even though the single word makes perfect sense and is incredibly unlikely to bother any reader and even though the authors donâ€™t want the copyeditor to change itâ€”such a person might have an issue with my leaving it as one word, since Web11 specifies otherwise. Using â€œcopyeditorâ€ is, for me, one way of letting such people know my stances right up front.
The danger, of course, is that someone might assume I donâ€™t know any better rather than that I made a conscious decision–but they would likely assume that about other exceptions as well. And as to that…well, my credentials speak for themselves, and many authors who feel Iâ€™ve helped and respected their work have spoken for me to add to that voice. Iâ€™m content with the decisions Iâ€™ve made. :-)
I'm a freelance copyeditor specializing in fantasy and science fiction. SF/F novels I have copyedited have been finalists for (and have sometimes won) the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Endeavour, Golden Spur, John W. Campbell Memorial, Quill, Locus, Philip K. Dick, British Science Fiction, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy awards. In 2007 I became the first and only copyeditor ever short-listed for a World Fantasy Award.