As an author interested in publishing a manuscript, you likely have pressing questions about the editing process. Is editing necessary before you publish your book? Are there any differences between the types of editing you’ll need if you’re aiming for traditional or self-publishing?
Let’s explore some reasons why you should consider professional editing services, going over the different types of editing out there.
Why Use an Editor?
The first reason you might want to consider editing services is that an editor can see your work with fresh eyes. You’ve been looking at your work so long that you can’t see any areas for improvement. An editor sees your work for the first time, approaching it with a wealth of knowledge and skill gained from working with multiple writers over many years. An editor can compare your work to many different genres and calibers of writing to zero in on what will improve your manuscript.
The second reason you should consider hiring an editor is that you’re probably not aware of the different types of editing services out there, each of which can improve your material in a unique way. Let’s explore them.
What Are the Different Types of Editing?
Editors don’t simply look at punctuation and grammar. There are four main categories of editing, and most editors will specialize in one or more of them.
This type of editing is a partnership between the editor and the author and typically occurs while the author is working on or has completed a first draft. The editor advises and guides the author, helping develop the book into a cohesive and clear work.
A developmental editor focuses on the big-picture aspects of a manuscript, such as genre, theme, character, structure, etc. Through comments or an editorial letter, but not by making changes to the material itself, your editor will suggest ways to improve your work on a broad scale. She can help you decide what the book is about and how to best structure it.
You’re not likely to receive developmental editing as part of the traditional publishing process, since publishers typically accept only those manuscripts that are “ready to go” in terms of big-picture story elements. If you feel your manuscript may benefit from this type of editing, you will have to seek out a developmental editor independently, preferably between writing your first and second drafts, before you even think about submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher.
Stylistic or “Line” Editing
A stylistic editor, also known as a line editor, takes a holistic view of your writing and suggests ways to improve each sentence while maintaining your unique voice. Your editor may suggest ways to clarify your meaning, reduce repetition, tighten up your prose, and generally give your audience a better overall reading experience.
As with developmental editing, you’re unlikely to receive a comprehensive line editing service as part of a traditional publishing deal. Agents and publishers typically expect that manuscripts submitted to them will be in good shape from a stylistic perspective. If you’re proud of your story but know your writing could use some polish, stylistic editing may be what you’re looking for.
Copy editing is what most people think of when they picture an editing service. A detail-oriented copy editor will focus on aspects such as word choice, consistency, grammar, and spelling, but she may make occasional suggestions for flow and phrasing, as well.
If you’re pursuing traditional publishing and receive an offer, your manuscript will undergo copy editing as part of the publishing process. However, if you’re self-publishing your manuscript, you will need to invest in copy editing services independently.
You want to go to a copy editor after you’ve worked with a developmental or line editor, because a copy editor will focus on the small picture. Big-picture elements such as plot, tone, character arcs, etc. should all be in their final forms by this point.
The last type of editing is proofreading, during which an editor will read over your manuscript to spot any remaining errors. This is an essential step before your book goes to print so that you can avoid embarrassing mistakes in the final product.
As with copy editing, your manuscript will receive a round of proofreading as part of the traditional publishing process. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll want to have someone proofread your manuscript as a last step after the book has been laid out for print.
Other Types of Editing
There are other more specific types of editing than the four described above. Some examples are the following:
Sensitivity editing (editing for bias, misrepresentation, stereotypes)
Manuscript critiquing (a big-picture overview of your manuscript)
Fact checking (researching to make sure all your facts are accurate)
You may also notice that editors refer to certain services uses different and sometimes overlapping terms. Some editors call a manuscript critique a developmental edit. Some call developmental editing substantive editing. Some combine stylistic editing and copy editing under a comprehensive service. You’ll need to ask your prospective editor exactly what he or she offers to be sure it aligns with your needs.
When we talk about why you need editing services, what we’re really saying is that you shouldn’t rule out these services before learning a little more about how they might benefit your work. You don’t need to hire every type of editor described above! As an author, you likely have some idea of what help your manuscript needs, so look for an editor or editors who can accommodate you and cover those bases without breaking the bank. Your goals will depend on whether you’re aiming for traditional or self-publishing, too.
Where Should You Start?
Your next steps will depend on where you are in the writing process and what your goals are for your manuscript.
The start of the process is the same regardless of whether you’re aiming to self-publish or work with a traditional publisher. If you’re still writing or have finished a first draft and know you need some help with big-picture aspects such as characters, plot, and themes, look for developmental editing or a manuscript critique service.
If you’ve finished writing but know the text still needs significant work, look for a stylistic or line editor to help you polish your writing and make it as good as it can be. This will be the final step you take independently if you’re aiming to publish traditionally, as copy editing and proofreading will be overseen by your publisher (with your final approval).
If you’re aiming to self-publish, after you’ve completed the steps above, work with a copy editor to iron out any final textual issues. Then, when all edits have been incorporated and the book has undergone formatting or typesetting, have a proofreader check your text for any remaining errors prior to publication.
Now that you know which types of editing you’ll need and when, what should you take into account when looking for an editor or editors to work with? Use the following questions as guidelines:
Does the editor have any professional training?
Can she describe which area or areas of editing she specializes in?
Can she articulate which type of editing is the right fit for you?
Has she worked on manuscripts like yours before?
Can she share testimonials?
Can she share a sample of her work or perform a sample edit for you?
What deliverables will you receive?
What timeline can she work within?
How does she charge (per page, per word, per hour)?
Does she understand your writing style and your manuscript?
Can you two communicate well? How has communication been so far?
Do you trust her ideas, and does she respect yours?
Some Final Questions
Let’s go over some other common questions from authors who are exploring the editing process:
What if friends have already given me feedback on my manuscript?
You may wonder whether you still need an editor if a beta reader or trusted friend has already looked over your work. The answer is yes, definitely.
Even if your friends give great feedback, they’re not trained editors who know the market. It’s smart to have some readers in your target audience give your book a “test drive,” but you might want to consider their feedback generally, the same way marketers consider comments from a focus group.
What if I’ve worked with a writing coach?
It depends. Some writing coaches are trained as developmental editors and can help you avoid big-picture issues during the writing process, meaning you’re less likely to need developmental editing after finishing your first draft.
However, you may still need stylistic editing, and you’ll definitely want a copy editor or proofreader to look over your work if you’re planning to self-publish.
Will an editor tear my work apart?
Even if you have trouble taking feedback or are concerned that an editor is going to destroy your work, you should still seek out an editor. If the editor is a skilled professional, she will be able to read between the lines and see your overall vision. Instead of viewing the editor as tearing your work apart, view editing as a way to help you enhance your writing and make it even better.
A good editor won’t tell you to change the entire plot of your book or rewrite everything. Rather, she will see the diamond in the rough.
When in Doubt, Hire an Editor!
In conclusion, consider using whichever editing services will meet your needs depending on which stage of writing or publishing you’re at.
If you’re pursuing traditional publication, a well-edited manuscript is more likely to catch an agent’s eye when you start sending out query letters. If you’re self-publishing, editing will result in higher-quality writing that your readers will appreciate and love.
Most importantly, you will learn and grow as a writer each time you go through the editing process.