Novelists, Inc. Blog Welcomes Joyce Lamb of Joyce Lamb Editing

- by Lina Gardiner

Welcome Joyce, thank you for being our guest this month.

What kind of business were you in for twenty-five years before going out on your own?

Thanks for talking with me, Lina!

I’ve been a copy editor for 25 years, the past 15 at USA Today in the Money section. My entire working life since graduating from college has been with one media company (Gannett, parent of USA Today). I was lucky enough to get a job at my hometown newspaper while still in college and moved around a couple of times within Gannett before landing at USA Today. I’m still a contractor for USA Today, as curator of the Happy Ever After blog devoted to romance novels. So I haven’t completely broken my ties, which is a good thing, because I’ve loved working for them.

What was it like to start your own business?

Scary as all hell! But once I decided freelance copy editing was what I wanted to do and I started doing it, it got a lot less scary fast. I knew I’d have to work even harder, but I love fiction, and there’s nothing more fun (for me) than copy editing a really great book. Yes, I’m a nerd through and through. Plus, with self-publishing being so hot, authors are in need of good copy editors, so I figured I’d have to try pretty hard to fail at freelance copy editing. : )    

What are your working hours like?

They’re all over the place. Part of the luxury of being my own boss is the ability to work when I want to. As long as I meet authors’ deadlines, it doesn’t matter when I do the work. I try to be at my desk by 2 p.m. each day, but some days I might work just a couple of hours. Other days, it might be 15 hours. And I’m OK with that, because I LOVE what I’m doing — and there’s no one looking over my shoulder.  

Give us an overview of your daily activities….  I’m picturing you lounging in jammies with a cup of coffee and a beignet.  LOL

Heh. Yep, that’s pretty accurate, if you substitute yogurt and granola for the beignet. I usually roll out of bed around 11 a.m. I’m a total night owl, so if I’m snuggled under the covers by 3 a.m., that’s right on time for me. First thing I head for is the coffee maker. Then I catch up on the news, pamper my two furball assistants (Allie and Maddie) and have some breakfast. I learned early on that if I don’t get dressed for the day by noon, it’s super easy to spend the whole day in my jams (it’s a rough life). I try to sign on and start editing by 2 p.m., like I said before, so I can get my full day’s work in before midnight. I’ll edit until around 9 p.m., then switch over to working on the romance novels blog for USA Today. Depending on what’s on the schedule, I’ll work on that until midnight or after. Then I spend some time with my DVR and/or iPad before turning in for the night.

What should authors look for in an editor for self-pubbed books?

Well, acknowledging that I’m mighty biased on this one, : ) you should look for professional experience and a good recommendation from another author. Someone who did well in English class would likely make an excellent proofreader, but only a professional copy editor can give you a professional copy edit. You should also look for a good rapport with a copy editor. If you get a sample edit, you might consider, for instance, how you feel about the tone of the copy editor’s comments. A good copy editor won’t try to make you feel stupid or bad about mistakes.

What kind of time-frame should authors give an editor on average? (depending on size of book)

It takes me a few days to do a copy edit on an 80,000-word manuscript, but I’m also juggling other projects. I would check in with an editor six to eight weeks before you think you’ll be ready for the edit. And, really, once you have an editor who’s waiting for you to send in your manuscript, that could give you the final kick in the butt you need to finish your book. : )  

 Do you have any authors who get you to edit their trad-pubbed books before submitting?

I’ve done proofreading for traditionally published authors. Trad publishers have their own copy editors, so I don’t know how necessary it would be for an author to spend money on a professional copy edit when they’re already getting one through their publisher (for free). However, if you know you’re terrible at grammar and punctuation and fear turning a publisher off because of that, then getting a copy edit before submitting could be quite handy.

Are there common errors you see authors making? 

I see a lot of errors with commas: too many, too few, in the wrong spots. Also, misuse of certain words: loathe vs. loath, horde vs. hoard, forego vs. forgo, that sort of thing. And a major one: authors who ask for a proofread when what they need is a copy edit. I’ve learned the hard way not to agree to proofread a book that hasn’t first been copy edited. No matter how clean you think your writing is, you still need a copy editor. Even with all my copy-editing experience, I still get my own books professionally copy edited. It’s embarrassing the errors that copy editors have caught in my books, but it’s not surprising, either. You don’t see your own errors — it’s the forest-for-the-trees thing. I would also consider it a common error when an author expects a copy-edited manuscript to be 100% free of typos afterward. No matter how vigilant and fantastic your copy editor is, he/she can’t catch everything in a novel-length manuscript. It’s not humanly possible in a project that large. Also, authors should keep in mind that copy editors aren’t researchers. I’ll flag something that sounds off, but I’m expecting that the author has already done the research and know what he/she’s writing about.  

Where do you fall on the continuum from copy editing to book doctor? 

Book doctoring is A LOT more work than copy editing and would come even before beta reading. Copy editing is about grammar, punctuation, word usage and coherence. Book doctoring, in my opinion, is aimed at fixing the plot, characters, story structure. A manuscript that needs a book doctor isn’t anywhere near ready for a copy edit. It’s big picture vs. little picture: A copy editor focuses on the little things once someone else has already done all the heavy lifting.  

How do you handle it if the author asks for one level of editing and you think the book needs another level?

If the author is new to me, then I’ll offer a sample edit of 10 or so double-spaced pages. That gives both me and the author an idea of what to expect. I can tell pretty quickly whether a manuscript needs more work than a copy edit, or needs a copy edit rather than a proofread. If the author is asking for a proofread, but I think she needs a copy edit, I’ll say so. It’s always up to the author whether she wants to move forward. Of course!

How do you handle editing a series of connected books?  Do you create a bible? Do you give that to the author?

I’ve edited several connected books, and I do make notes while editing, but I haven’t shared my notes with the authors. Not because I don’t want to, but because the issue has never come up. And I’m not sure my notes would be any help anyway. They’re mainly intended to keep the facts straight in my own head. I would think the author has already created his or her own bible for their series.

Do you create any other tools to help with the editing, say a timeline for continuity issues?  Do you share that with the author?

 Yes, I make notes about the timeline, but the only time I share that with the author is if something comes up in the timeline that doesn’t jibe. Even then, I would share that info in the comments in Track Changes rather than, say, attaching a copy of my notes. I also keep notes about what each author prefers. Copy editing can sometimes be objective (yes, it’s true!), so once I know, for instance, that an author prefers “blonde” when referring to the color of a woman’s hair (as opposed to “blond”), then I’ll make a note of it. That makes it easier for both of us when we work together again. For historicals, I’ll keep track of language issues for the time period. And with paranormals, I’ll take notes on the mythology for continuity purposes. But, again, I don’t share the notes with the authors, because they’re aimed at keeping things organized in my head. I would hope that info is already straight in the author’s head. : )  

 Joyce Lamb Editing

 Joyce Lamb head shot (2)



  1. Great insights, Joyce, thank you.
    I have great respect for editors and love working with my mine. I always feel that my story is better because of her work, but she has the authority to approve the work for publication. Or not.
    Do you think being a freelance editor empowers you more to assist an author reach her vision? Or does the lack of a “house” with its expectations supporting you make it more difficult (though I am sure you would try) to point out what you might see as major flaws given that you now work for directly for the author?
    I hope this question makes sense? I was fumbling around for the way to express the thoughts in my head.

  2. Joyce, it’s so cool that you are putting your amazing expertise at the disposal of us authors! Best of luck with your new venture! I know it will be a huge success.

  3. Hi, Ann!
    I know exactly what you’re asking, and the answer is yes. : ) Because I’m working solely for the author, my only concern is the author’s vision. There’s no agenda other than helping to make sure the author’s vision is coherent and as free as possible from distracting mistakes. Plus, having a direct line of communication with the author is SO handy — I don’t have to go through a third party to ask questions if I have them. That also means there’s less risk of misinterpretation.
    Thanks for asking, Ann!

  4. Hi, Nancy!
    Thanks so much! : ) It’s been A LOT of fun!

  5. Fascinating, Joyce! I have huge respect for anyone with copy editing skills. I know just enough to know that I need an excellent copy editor. :)

  6. Welcome to the freelance romance editor club, Joyce! :) I’m so glad to hear another editor has a schedule just as unorthodox as mine. I’m also an extreme night owl!

    Wishing you every success,

  7. Interesting blog, Joyce. I was unaware of the difference between book doctors and copy-editors. Thanks for clearing that up. Sounds like you have a lovely time-schedule :-) Best of luck for your new endeavor!

  8. I sometimes wish I could choose the copy editor dealing with my publishers’ books. You sound to be doing a great job! Some of my copy editors also do a great job, but I’ve had one or two weirdos eg one who put in a zillion commas. Oh boy, the prose stuttered.

  9. Hi, Norah!
    LOL — copy editors love authors who know they need a copy editor! : )

  10. Hi, Rachel!
    Thanks for the welcome and the good wishes!! It’s good to be in the club. : )
    You know? I don’t think I would function well with a “regular” schedule after so many years. I have to admit that I love not having to set an alarm in the morning. Zzzzzz.
    Take care!

  11. Hi, Kathryn!
    Some people might have a different take on the difference between book doctors and copy editors, but that’s my take. I think it’d be really tough to focus on plot and character issues at the same time that you’re trying to figure out whether that’s the correct use of effect. : )

  12. Hi, Anna!
    LOL. Yeah, some copy editors really love their commas. And, really, commas can be a little subjective sometimes. Which just drives some of us nutso. Here’s hoping your next copy editor takes it easier on the punctuation. : )
    Take care!

  13. Great article, Joyce. Good definition of the different levels of editing and what they include. Thanks so much for getting us out there in HEA!!

  14. Hi Joyce!

    Way to go! You never told me you were doing this! Huge congrats on starting your own company!! I will be emailing you about a project.

    Maggie Mae :)

  15. Ah yes, the comma. Well, the less said about that the better LOL! Best wishes on this endeavor!