Copyediting can be every bit as tough as composing. When I wrote textbooks, my manuscripts went through at least two or (more often) three levels of professional review to get every detail right—and even then errors slipped through.
I don't have that luxury now. Just one copyeditor and so many subsequent reviews of the manuscript on my own that I know parts of it almost by heart. And there's he rub. Very soon, I'm reading what I think should be on the page rather than what's actually there.
In the very final stages, the smallest details require the toughest scrutiny.
- Has every quotation been closed?
- Should certain expressions be two words, hyphenated, or left separate (long shot or long-shot or longshot)? I'm amazed by how often this issue arises.
- Does a hyphen appear where an en-dash or em-dash is preferred?
- Is punctuation consistent ("Yes, ma'am"; not "Yes ma'am")?
- Has a British form been used instead of an American one (canvasses rather than canvases); worse yet, has usage been inconsistent?
- Is capitalization correct and consistent? For example, when is Sheriff capitalized?
Of course, at some point the entire manuscript needs to be real aloud—usually more than once—to catch places where words are too noticeably repeated. And then every correction has to be checked and rechecked so that fixing one error doesn't introduce another, one of my greatest failings when I'm copyediting. Fortunately, I have a very patient book designer.