Editing: The Who, What and When

When I tell people that I’m a freelance editor, it’s quite common for people to assume that I spend day in and day out just looking at spelling, grammar and punctuation. I don’t get this reaction from just the general public either. Many writers, especially new writers, also make this assumption. However, editing is so much more.

Editing falls into four main categories: critique, developmental, line and copy-edit. Each stage is necessary to the development of a manuscript. While the initial drafting of a story is a solitary practice, it’s vital for every writer to seek out those extra sets of eyes to provide objective input. The who and the when will depend entirely on what stage your manuscript is at. The stages of editing (depicted in the figure below) are the same for both traditional and self-publication, it’s just the players that may change.

The stages of editing

The stages of editing

Early Writing and Critiquing Partnerships

When writing and editing those early drafts, a critiquing partner can be invaluable, pointing out glaring plot holes that you may have missed. They can be other writers, or a technical adviser who is an expert in a given field. You can find the writing-type critique partner through writing groups, Facebook, or even writing contests. Many critiquing sites have noticeboards filled with people looking for critiquing partners, including Scribophile and Critique Circle. On Twitter, #CPMatch could be the way you find your perfect partner.

The types of critique that one obtains vary greatly, ranging from a full assessment of language and plot, through to characters, and general likes and dislikes. It depends entirely on the level and skill of the critiquer. Critiques are often on partial drafts, and can be at any stage of the writing. You can hire a professional editor to provide a critique, often at a discounted rate, or have a fellow writer provide feedback. You might even send your manuscript to a technical adviser on a given topic, to ensure that your manuscript is accurate and the plot ideas that you had are actually feasible. (Was the poison in my story deadly enough? Can the plane that I used really make that maneuver? Is that really how someone would have wielded a sword?)

Building a good critiquing relationship with other writers can do wonders for your own writing. Not only will you get feedback from objective eyes, but you can see how others go about the editing process. Even those with little-to-no experience in providing critiques can still provide valuable insight into what is not working in a given passage.

The Developmental and Line Edits

Developmental editing provides an in-depth review of the plot, characters, pace, structure and narrative voice. It is typically a big picture view, but does examine the nuances associated with individual chapters and the nitty-gritty of subplots. The story flow from paragraph to paragraph, chapter to chapter, generally is fully assessed. Occasionally, a developmental edit will include some line-edits.

Line editing examines a manuscript at a sentence and paragraph level, taking closer look language, structure and clarity. Manuscripts are often returned with in-line edits, comments and possible changes marked throughout. Often the line-edits from the first few chapters can be filtered through into the rest of a manuscript.

Both of these edits occur in the middle stages of a manuscript’s development, and it’s these services for a professional editor that tend to be the most expensive. It takes time to dissect prose, ensuring that everything that is meant to be there is actually there. (Is that really the right word? Is that description enough or is it over the top? Does this character make me want to fall in love, or run an iron over them because they’re so flat with the odd wrinkle?) Do keep in mind that a professional editor that advertises only copy-editing services is not a developmental or line editor.

Beta Readers

When you have edited your manuscript to death, and worked out all the plot and language kinks, new eyes become vital. That is the stage when you put your feelers out in every direction and ask if anyone is willing to read your manuscript and provide you with feedback. Beta readers can be other writers, avid readers, or even your family and friends. At this stage of editing, all you want is the reader’s perspective about your story. You want the answer to the question: did they like it and would they buy it if the opportunity presented itself?

For those on the traditional publication road, it is common for the query process to begin while beta readers are still reading your manuscript. Just ensure that you’re not querying with a manuscript that is still raw, requiring significant changes.

Copy-Editing and Proofreading

Copy-editing is the type of editing that checks spelling, grammar and punctuation. The idea is to ensure that the language used is accurate and consistent throughout the manuscript and that the prose flows. This is one of the last stages of editing, so developmental issues are not examine, but that shouldn’t matter—by the time you get to a copy-edit, there shouldn’t be any developmental issues.

Proofreading is the very last stage of editing before that book goes to the printer. The proofreader goes through the entire manuscript, picking up any mistakes that the copy-editor missed and checking for any errors in the typesetting. The proofreader is hired by the publisher (whether that is a publishing house or yourself) and is the last chance to catch anything before your story goes public.

For those on the traditional publishing road, the copy-editor will most likely be contracted by the publishing house. Regardless, the proofreader definitely is.

Do all writers need to hire an editor?

There is only one type of writer that doesn’t require any form of editing: the one who writes solely for personal pleasure with no intention to ever publish anything. Everyone else will need another set of eyes at some stage during a manuscript’s development, however, it need not be a professional editor. As mentioned above, critiquing partners and beta readers can be a valuable resource.

If you do hire a professional editor, be advised that not all editors are the same. Some will only offer developmental edits and critiques, while others will only offer copy-edit and proofreading services. Some offer a combination of both. When contracting an editor, do make sure that you look at the services they offer closely. Also look at the types of stories that an editor is willing to look at. Let’s face it, not everyone wants to read about guts being ripped out of the body, just like not everyone wants to read about how Harry met Sally.

Regardless, just remember that editing takes time and is one thing that you should never rush.

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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016

Posted in General Advice, Writing and Editing and tagged , , , , .

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