Inside a Harlequin Copy Editor’s Life!

Authors–and editors–have frequently mentioned the blessing of a good copy editor to make sure those last participles are undangled and infinitives unsplit (or at least pointed out in case we really meant to do that!).

Shona Sequeira is an experienced Harlequin copy editor, and she knows her Chicago and her Webster’s without a doubt! We’ve invited her to do a series of blogs to give us insight into how a copy editor balances the juggling act of author’s voice, house style, good story and great grammar. So in this first blog she’s going to give us some background….


Behind the red pencil…

Every Harlequin novel en route to publication must inevitably spend some quality time in Copyediting, i.e. with a cheerful group of grammar nerds who live to slay pesky dangling modifiers and rogue comma splices and who ensure that the hero’s flirty eyes always retain the same heart-melting hue. (Unless said hero has a penchant for colored contact lenses, in which case we’ll just STET.)

As copy editors, we aim to make your story shine! Ever-committed to the three c’s (clarity, consistency and correctness), we’re on the watch not only for spelling and grammar issues, typos, repetition, and awkward phrasing, but for problematic trademark usage, potentially libelous material, timeline and factual errors, and just about anything that may distract your readers from truly enjoying your book. While many are forgiving of a sloppy text message or hastily written social media snippet, readers today absolutely still care about and notice mistakes in published work, be it digital or print. As an author, you want to be remembered for your amazing story, not for grammatical gaffes. Copyediting is here to help you achieve just that!

By the time your book arrives in Copyediting, it will have already undergone a solid Editorial appraisal—you will have worked closely with your editor in creating a fantastic plot, unforgettable characters, sharp dialogue and sweet (or steamy!) love scenes. Essentially, both Editorial and Copyediting try to answer the same crucial question: How can we make this story—and the telling of it—even better, even stronger, even richer? But our responsibilities play out differently. The editor’s focus is on the novel’s foundations, its shell and its soul; the copy editor sets to work on the mechanics within this vast framework. It’s not an editor’s job to fix typos or verify the flight time between the heroine’s hometown and her suitor’s romantic desert hideaway. And good copy editors don’t overstep their authority in making changes to plot or rewriting whole sections. (We can certainly make suggestions for edits, though!) Copy editors want to modify just enough that the story flows easily, but not too much that those changes meddle with the author’s authentic voice and personal writing style. Our job is to iron out the wrinkles—it’s the author who stitches the fabric of the story together with the help of her editor’s experienced hand!

So there you have it: a tiny glimpse into the world of a red pen–wielding (okay fine, Track Changes is the new red pen), Chicago Manual of Style–worshipping Harlequin copy editor. We adore working with words, debating points of grammar, and indulging our passion for meticulousness and accuracy. All of us are book lovers and many of us may have writing aspirations. We strive to make our authors’ stories as brilliant as possible before they go out into the world, but…we’re not perfect! We’ve been trained to spot mistakes, but sometimes…sometimes…we miss things. As even the most diligent, accomplished, seasoned author needs a copy editor, so could copy editors do with another set of eyes on our work, which is why we have proofreaders and why I had a couple of copy-editor comrades (thanks, Margot and Katie!) vet this post for me!


Thanks, Shona! All the editors know how often the copy editors save us from embarrassment before the readers. We’re all looking forward to seeing the rest of the secrets of your trade… 🙂