Etiquette for requesting a particular copyeditor

Someone asked in the comment thread: I wondered about that–what is the etiquette. I think it’s possible a huge project of mine is at last going to get read and a pub date…and if so, I was wondered this past week, as I wait to find out, if I could request you or if the editor in question would be upset and insist they have inhouse folks. I do NOT want to step astray of etiquette, yet if you were willing to take that thing on, I know I’d be the the one benefitting!

I suppose this depends on your relationship with your editor. Your editor wants you to be happy with your book, though, and I’ve met very few who have a problem with trying out (or hiring again) a copyeditor the author wants. However, the publisher is not in any way obligated to provide a particular copyeditor, so it’s a polite request on the author’s part, not a demand.

I’d love to hear from authors and editors on this, though. If you’re an author who’s requested a particular copyeditor, how did you do so, and what was your editor’s reaction? If you’re an editor, what etiquette do you like to see in a request like this, and what are your feelings about it?

13 thoughts on “Etiquette for requesting a particular copyeditor”

  1. I think it’s definitely worth letting the editor know you have a preference, especially because of the way publishing has consolidated, with many imprints are sisters and cousins to one another under one larger publishing group. I’ve been requested a few times, and it didn’t seem awkward or outlandish because almost every time the publisher was already one of my dozen or so clients unbeknownst to the author, or because I’d regularly done work with a related imprint or pub.

    The publishing world is very small. Holtzbrinck, Random House, Penguin (USA), and Simon & Schuster reign supreme, and it’s likely anyone who has been freelancing a long time has done work for every one of these megacorporations at some level, so you may not, in fact, be introducing a “stranger” into the editing process, but rather someone who is easily vouched for.

    Give it a shot, and certainly word it as a preference. A demand, as Deanna said, might not get you what you want but instead create animosity.

  2. I have one writer who insists on a certain copyeditor and we try to accomodate his wishes when their schedule permits. I have several writers who have requested Deanna. And Deanna was introduced & recommended to me by a writer who was particularly happy with her efforts. I don’t think there is anything wrong with requesting a particular copy editor, or any rules governing such requests, but as Deanna points out, the publisher is under no obligation to meet that request and it depends on how the house in question runs things. –Lou Anders

  3. It was easy. I put a gun to my editor’s head, and informed her that either Deanna’s handwriting or her brains would be all over my manuscript.

    . . .

    Of course, in this reality, I barely had to ask. Your rep did most of the work, I merely made my wishes official.

  4. Copyediting is a touchy subject all around. The people who do it are also writers, or aspiring writers, or aspiring editors or agents or what have you, and the urge to tamper with the prose and style must be overwhelming. Most of them indulge it, and most are also overly picky about grammar, at the expense of clarity and flow. A tin ear is very much the norm.

    I honestly didn’t know what good copyediting felt like until I started working with Deanna, so now I always ask for her. I don’t know if it’s rude or not; I never really thought about it.

    I do think, for a first novel, that certain sins are forgivable on the grounds of naivetee. OTOH, coming across as a prima donna could be dangerous if you don’t have a track record, so I dunno. I guess I’ll fall back on my generic answer for questions like this:

    It’s amazing how little your publisher will do for you if you don’t ask, and even more amazing what they’ll sometimes do if you do ask. The difference is staggering.

    — Wil McCarthy

  5. I’d love to hear from authors and editors on this, though. If you’re an author who’s requested a particular copyeditor ([info]scott_lynch, I know you requested me), how did you do so, and what was your editor’s reaction? If you’re an editor, what etiquette do you like to see in a request like this, and what are your feelings about it?

    I’ve had authors ask for a particular copyeditor, and I, myself, have occasionally requested a particular copyeditor for a particular project (as Deanna knows!). I have no problem with authors making this request, provided they understand that sometimes the requested copyeditor is simply not available at the time they are needed, and that in those instances, we have to look elsewhere. Also, provided that the requested copyeditor is someone I know and trust myself. I would probably not be comfortable acting on an author’s request for an untried copyeditor, but that’s never happened, in my experience, anyway.
    –Shelly Shapiro

  6. Having been an editor myself, I was always on the lookout for good copyeditors – they’re harder to find than one might think – so a recommendation from a writer never bothered me in the least. The worst thing I’d have to say is “he or she isn’t going to work for this project”.

    As a writer, I’ve asked for a specific copyeditor on a couple of occasions for various reasons. When it comes to publishers, you won’t get what you don’t ask for. So feel free to ask. The worst they’ll say is no, and they might possibly say yes – esp. if you have good reasons for wanting a particular copyeditor.

    Having worked with Deanna, I can say that I plan on doing my level best to take her with me for at least the next 10 or 15 books. :-)


  7. Betsy Mitchell at Del Rey wrote me to say that she tried to contribute to this discussion, but LJ blocked her comment. She gave me permission to post on her behalf:

    At Del Rey the copyediting is assigned by the managing editorial department. Editors (or authors, via their editors) sometimes do request a certain copyeditor, whether because the book is one of a series and would benefit from a single copyeditor, or because the author or editor has had a good experience with that particular copyeditor before. The person we request is not always available on the schedule that’s needed to bring the book out on time, but there’s certainly no harm in asking for a particular person.
    –Betsy Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief, Del Rey

  8. Just a note… I’m professional copyeditor, and I’m definitely not a writer or agent (nor do I have any desire to be)! I struggle not to be overly picky about things… but, then, I edit nonfiction exclusively. I have no idea how different it may be in the fiction world.

    I don’t usually get requested by authors, because I don’t have many repeat authors. But I do have very happy repeat clients. My favorite project editors at my major client’s tend to “shark me” and double me up on work so that other project editors can’t use me! It’s odd.

    I used to write, but I find that my calling really is editing. I am much better at tweaking other people’s work to sound better. And as I often explain to authors: My job is to make YOU (and the publisher) look great!

    Again, I totally respect that editing fiction is an entirely different beast, and hats off to anyone who can do it well!

  9. Actually, the major NY houses are, in order of sales volume:

    and then a host of others, all of whom would be considered “medium-sized” publishers (though that does not make them minor players!).

    Disclaimers: Some sales numbers were estimates, but this is generally considered to be an accurate lineup.

    Also: This is for general trade publishers. Some educational publishers have sales volumes in this range, but they aren’t competing for the same audience.

  10. Good point. It never hurts to mention a preference, especially as the chances may be good the copy editor is somehow associated with the publisher already; I and a few fellow copy editors I know each have done work for most if not all of these clients. But authors shouldn’t presume their favored copy editor must have done work for the publisher in question; for example, I’ve never worked for an educational publisher or university press yet, although I’ve been interested in trying something new.

  11. As a former Del Rey editor, I requested Deanna myself more than once. Any author should be able to make the request, but you have to remain professional. Remember, it’s not up to the editor who the copyeditor will be–it’s up the the managing editorial department. So you need to respect the editor’s decision as to whether or not it would be appropriate to make the request.

    And the managing editors have people they work with–people they trust. If they are comfortable with bringing Deanna onto a project, then most likely they will. But if they have someone else in mind, you need to respect them as professionals in their field, and abide by their decisions.

    As long as the discussion is courteous and calm, there shouldn’t be a problem.


  12. How does “the the” manage to make two appearances on a blog page devoted to copyediting?

    Your blog is fantastic: well-written, clever, and very informative. Keep it up!

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