What are the different types of editing?

You’ve finished your book. Hurray!

Now’s the time to find an editor.

So you start to look around and – bam! – you’re hit with all kinds of different terms! Copy-editor, developmental editor, proofreader – what’s the difference? And then there are references to line editing and manuscript critiques. It’s so confusing!

You’re not alone in feeling like that, and you’re right – it is confusing. To make it worse, there are no universally agreed definitions of these terms, so one editor’s copy-edit may not be the same as another. It’s enough to make your head spin!

I’m going to try and give you a brief definition of the different types of editing so you can start to feel your way through the minefield.

Developmental Editing

The first type of editing that a manuscript should see is developmental editing. Broadly speaking, it addresses the big picture issues –plot, structure, narrative style, point of view, character development and so on. It’s not concerned with spelling, punctuation and grammar – no point trying to fix those until the main story is right.

In a full-on developmental edit, a writer might hire an editor to work with them on a very detailed level, almost coaching them in their craft.

If a writer doesn’t want a full developmental edit, they might instead hire an editor for a manuscript assessment or critique. The editor will work their way through the story piece by piece and compile a written report for the writer as to what works, and what needs further attention. This can be at various levels of detail.

Writers often use beta readers instead – people who will read their book and give feedback. This often happens within writers’ groups on a reciprocal basis. It’s tempting to ask family or friends, but this is not usually advisable unless you can be absolutely sure they’ll be honest with you! A ‘Yes, dear, that’s lovely’ isn’t going to be very helpful!

All these types of feedback should help you perfect your writing and improve your manuscript.

Copy-editing/Line editing

Once you’ve been through developmental editing and you’re certain that your book is as good as it can be, the next stage is copy-editing.

Copy-editing is the process of reviewing and correcting a manuscript to improve readability and ensure accuracy and consistency. A copy-editor may recast sentences or suggest rewording, but they won’t make substantial changes. They should always be sensitive to the writer’s style and voice. They will probably make comments and raise queries for you to consider.

A copy-editor will look at things like:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Repetition and wordiness within sentences and paragraphs
  • Sentence structure and word usage
  • Inconsistencies or impossibilities within the story
  • Timeline issues or obvious pacing problems

… and possibly more

There is no one accepted definition of what is included in a copy-edit, or even a consensus among editors. For example, some editors may include basic fact checking (such as historical or geographical details), while others may be prepared to do heavier rewriting of passages.

To confuse matters more, some editors differentiate between copy-editing (spelling, punctuation, grammar and sentence structure – to make sure the writing that appears on the page is in accordance with industry standards) and line editing (addressing the creative content, writing style, and language use at the sentence and paragraph level). It’s typically American editors that make the distinction between the two, while in the UK it usually all comes under the heading of copy-editing. If you’re hiring a copy-editor, make sure you know exactly what’s included in their service.

Proofreading

In traditional publishing, proofreading is the final stage, a ‘quality control’ check after a book has been formatted and before it goes to print. Proofreaders are looking for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, typos, and formatting issues. They are not looking to make any major changes – these should have been picked up in earlier editing rounds.

Hybrid services

Some editors might offer services that blur the lines somewhat, such as combining a proofread with a light edit, or a heavy copy-edit that includes line editing and structural work. They might come up with all kinds of names for these bespoke services. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – just be clear you understand what each service includes.

Do your research

All this means it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what your editor is going to do for you. Read their website carefully and ask questions. It’s fine to shop around to find an editor who is going to be a good fit for you.

Now you know!

In the next post, we’ll look at which of those services you should be spending your hard-earned cash on!

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