Copyediting is a rather personal service, so I suppose you should know a bit about me.
Who am I?
I’m Sue Littleford. I hung out my shingle as a copyeditor, trading as Apt Words, in 2007.
In 2013, I became an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (the CIEP, which morphed from the old Society for Editors and Proofreaders in 2020, after being awarded its Royal Charter), and I’m a member of ACES (the US society for editing).
This came after a career in the civil service and in the private sector where, despite working in financial and computing areas, I was always the go-to wordsmith.
- What do you help people with?
- Do you know what it feels like to be copyedited?
- Why are you called ‘Apt Words’?
- What do you do, exactly?
- What do you do when you’re not copyediting?
- What’s your dream job?
What do you help people with?
I’ve made a niche for myself copyediting scholarly humanities and social sciences books and journal articles for publishers and pre-press companies.
I also work with businesses, for whom I can produce house style guides for their written material as well as copyedit.
And sometimes I also work directly with authors.
Do you know what it feels like to be copyedited?
Oh, yes! Yes, I do! I wrote the CIEP guide Going Solo: Creating your freelance editorial business, which you can buy from the CIEP’s website (free for members!) and the accompanying CIEP members’ benefit ‘Going Solo Toolkit’, a collection of up-to-date business financial information (UK only) and spreadsheets to help you run your business.
Going Solo first came out in 2016, and after a couple of revised editions as the financial figures changed, was completely overhauled, with the second edition being published in 2021. That edition was copyedited by four of CIEP’s finest copyeditors – all at once! So, yes, I really do know what it’s like to get a document covered in red ink and a shedload of queries.
In February 2021, to coincide with that, I started writing the Flying Solo column for the CIEP members’ e-magazine, The Edit, and the column is published as a CIEP blog post for anyone to read. That comes out six times per year – and multiple copyeditors also pile onto that.
I’ve been on the CIEP’s Parliament of Wise Owls since 2016, when it was founded. It’s a small group of Advanced Professional Members who blog maybe five times per year across a whole range of issues relating to the business of copyediting and proofreading, so you get several opinions and answers in a single post.
If you want to see these posts, there’s a handy list of links on the resources page.
Why are you called ‘Apt Words’?
Because writing has to be sensitive to the audience. Your word choices need to be apt. The writing needs to be pitched correctly for the intended reader.
If the reader will understand it, I won’t decry jargon because, for your intended readership, it’s merely an efficient shorthand for familiar ideas.
If you’re writing for a more general audience, then you need to do a lot more explaining – that convenient shorthand has reverted to dense jargon that either has to be changed or, at the very least, unpacked and explained.
The register – the tone of the writing – needs to be appropriate to the audience and to the style of document, too.
Long gone is the dry as dust academic style. Over the last ten years or so, there’s been a distinct change to a more relaxed style – I’d not go so far as to say chatty, but (if it’s within the publisher’s style guidance, of course), there’s a distinct unbending, with contractions allowed and prepositions at the ends of sentences! Some publishers still want authors to refer to themselves in the third person, others are content with first-person writing.
And you can even start a sentence – or even a paragraph – with a conjunction, and no one will mind.
What do you do, exactly?
The copyeditor’s job is to represent the reader. The book has to work as a book, and not be riddled with those niggling errors that pull the reader away from what you’re saying.
The CIEP has a short and handy guide on what copyediting is, and what proofreading is. I’m afraid I can’t abide proofreading – I’m purely a copyeditor.
When I start a book or journal edit, I start with the references. Once they’re accurate, and styled correctly, then I look at the other mechanics of the book – headings, chapter titles, table of contents, artwork, lists of illustrations and so on. By the time the book is now working as a book (or an article, on a smaller scale), then I finally turn to the reading, without the distraction of worrying whether a heading in title case should be in sentence case.
What do you do when you’re not copyediting?
You’ll usually find me up to my neck in my family history. Or with my nose in a book (for fun). Or both, simultaneously!
What’s your dream job?
Thank you for asking! It’s copyediting family history books. Scrumptious!