The Art of Copyediting High-Low Fiction

copyediting high-low fiction

By Kayla Pawek, Editor

For most of the titles on our list, copyediting is the most straightforward part of the editing process. This is true because most of our books are leveled nonfiction. Our in-house copy editor knows that she’s responsible for fixing grammar spots, adjusting formatting, and ensuring text is appropriately leveled for the book’s target audience.

But fiction, especially high-low fiction (which we publish in our Darby Creek imprint), isn’t straightforward. It’s artistic, subjective, and varies in style from story to story.

Copyediting high-low fiction

Given the unique circumstances of high-low fiction, how does one approach the  copyedit? I wrestled with this as I began copyediting Darby Creek.

Before I dug into my specific approach to these copyedits, I found it useful to clearly define the purpose and goals of high-low fiction. To put it as simply as possible, high-low fiction is high-interest fiction that is written at low reading levels. The books are written specifically to engage struggling and reluctant readers ages 7 to 18.

In these titles, we aim to engage these readers by creating fast-paced, action-packed text, focusing on two to three strong main characters, and keeping text simple and straightforward.

Knowing these objectives made it easier to consider my role as a copy editor in relationship to the overall goal for our high-low titles. But as I began the copyediting projects, I developed a few specific strategies to help get me through the tough spots:

Determine the author’s voice

I always read through the first few chapters (between 10 and 20 pages) before I make any changes. This helps me learn the voice, pacing, and tone of the story and the author.

For example, instead of diving right in and fixing sentence fragments, I read a bit further to figure out if the author is using fragments specifically as part of his or her style. Because this is fiction and guided more by the author’s artistic vision, I generally defer to the author’s style.

This happened a lot in our Atlas of Cursed Places series, which is the first series I copyedited for Darby Creek. One author liked to use short sentences, so I did my best to preserve that style.

copyediting high-low fiction example

Eliminate confusion

That being said, if there are spots that are confusing or just plain incorrect, I will rework the sentence as minimally as possible so that confusion and inaccuracies are eliminated but the author’s voice and style are preserved.

Given that the readers of our series are struggling, reluctant readers, it is critically important that I don’t let the author’s voice hinder the accessibility of the text.

Address technical questions

If it’s a technical question, like how to hyphenate “thirty-yard line” in our Gridiron series, I find it most helpful to consider the series as a whole, since all six of those titles were football based.

I considered the hyphenation of the word “yard line,” which Webster’s spells as two words without a hyphen, along with the principles for hyphenating compound modifiers outlined in CMOS. After considering what would read the most natural for our struggling readers, I made a decision about how to hyphenate the compound modifiers. As I copyedited the other titles in that series, I made sure I used the same method in each to maintain consistency.

copyediting high-low fiction example

Overall, I’ve found that CMOS has a flexible approach to copyediting different kinds of titles. While there are things that are straightforward—like how to use the apostrophe to indicate possessives—there are other things—like how to use italics or hyphens—that can be left to the discretion of the editor.

The three steps I listed above have helped me decide how to use the flexibility granted by CMOS effectively and consistently while copyediting high-low fiction.

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