In today’s article, I’m going to talk about the different levels of editing available and how an author should decide which they need.
First, let’s look at the different levels of editing available.
There’s a detailed breakdown here but here’s an overview:
Structural/Developmental Editor: Will look at the big picture elements of your manuscript. Plot, characterisation, point of view, pace, and narrative.
Line Editor: Sentence level elements including: word choice, clarity, consistency, conciseness, dialogue, grammar, and syntax.
Copy-editor: Sentence and word level elements including: paragraphs, dialogue, spelling and punctuation, consistency in minor plot/character details, and clarity.
Proofreader: Sentence, word, and layout: basic formatting, dialogue punctuation, chapter sequencing, and indentation.
Many freelance editors will offer one or two of these services, and will perhaps combine two of them, but I’ve yet to meet any who offer all four levels. Typically, a line and copy-edit can be combined, and maybe a copy-edit and proofread, but a developmental/structural edit should be done on its own.
Now let’s look at some of the areas an author may find they’re struggling with:
- Overwriting – too wordy
- Plot development
- Narrative point of view/head hopping
- Consistency in formatting and layout
The type of editor you need will depend on the issues you have, using the examples above, here’s who you’d need to call on to help:
- Line Editor / Copy-editor / Proofreader
- Line Editor
- Developmental/Structural Editor
- Line Editor / Copy-editor
- Developmental/Structural Editor
- Developmental/Structural Editor / Line Editor
- Line Editor / Copy-editor / Proofreader
As you can see, not all editors specialise in all areas and you need to find out what any editor you approach offers.
‘What if I don’t know what my problems are?’
It’s easy for someone in the business to say you need A, B, but not C, but that doesn’t always help the author if they don’t yet know what their sticking points are, after all, you can’t mend something if you don’t know it’s broken. A tiny gap and huge hole are very different things.
Consider this; an author skips a copy-edit as they’ve been told it’s the big picture elements that matter most, not a few typos. But what if it’s not a few typos? What if the novel has a wonderful and captivating plot, is beautifully paced, and full of characters their readers instantly fall in love with, but on a line level, it’s so full of spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes all the good stuff is lost inside and it’s too unpleasant to read?
Or, on the flip side, the author has been meticulous with their line level editing and proofreading, the sentences flow with no spelling, punctuation, or grammatical mishaps but the characters are one dimensional, there are plot holes galore, and the reader is left with nothing but unanswered questions.
It’s such a minefield for authors, especially newbies. The best advice is to find some beta readers you can trust to provide honest and constructive feedback, or have a professional critique done on your manuscript.
There’s also the possibility that a sample edit from a freelancer will help shed some light on where you may need assistance.
So, how do you know when you’re ready?
I love how Jane Friedman explains it:
[N]ever hire a copy-editor until you’re confident your book doesn’t require a higher level of editing first. That would be like painting the walls of your house right before tearing them down. (‘Should You Hire a Professional Editor?‘)
This is such a brilliant way to look at the editing process. There’s no point in having all the typos dealt with if your plot and characters aren’t doing what your reader needs them to do.
Therefore, there is a specific process, and it’s not based on importance but on logic.
Start your editing process with the big picture elements. Whether a professional critique or feedback from trusted beta readers, get all the structural elements in place. If no issues are found, brilliant, if there are mishaps, that’s great too as you can deal with them, either yourself or with a professional, before they are brought up in reader reviews.
Once you have the big picture elements sorted, you can look at the line and sentence level mishaps. I would always recommend an author employs a professional at this stage as although they may not be a specialist in the big picture elements, they will know if things are amiss.
They will guide you to getting your work into great shape and will advise if there are further needs.
I offer two main services, the Big Difference Edit which combines line and copy-editing, and Little Tweaks Proofread which combines copy-editing and proofreading. I also work with authors on a Step by Step and Consultancy basis
Your copy/line editor should be able to pick up other elements relating to the proofreading, but don’t expect miracles. They aren’t Superman and at this stage, there are likely to be more revisions to the manuscript during which further mishaps can be introduced. For more on this, read here.
Remember: Your editor, at any stage in the process, isn’t a ghost writer. As literary agent Rachelle Gardner explains:
Using a freelance editor can be a great idea – if you use it as a learning experience. You need to do most of the work yourself. I think it’s wasted money if you’re counting on someone to fix your manuscript for you. The point is to get an experienced set of eyes on it to help you identify problems and figure out how to fix them. (‘Should I Hire a Freelance Editor?‘)
There’s no doubt you need to have at least one professional editing pass on your manuscript. As this poem by Anon shows, we cannot rely on a spell checker:
Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a quay and type a word
And weight for it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its really eve wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in its weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
As you can see, there are many mistakes which won’t be picked by standard spelling checkers as they are only checking for incorrect spellings.
So, what now?
You know you need an editor, but how do you find one you can trust?
Word of mouth is the first place to start. Ask in the writer groups you belong to, (if you’re not in any groups, but would like to be, let me know and I’ll guide to some brilliant groups) who do other people use? If you’re not in any groups yet, you’re left with Google. There are many search terms you can use: freelance copy-editor/proofreader for example, this will bring up lots of pages for jobs and companies who offer these services but scroll through a few pages and you’ll eventually start to see the freelancers.
Always speak to more than one editor, and to help you determine they know what they’re doing,
here’s what they should be asking you:
- What genre is your manuscript?
- Have you already identified any problematic areas?
- What are your publishing aims? (Self-publishing/submitting/time frame etc.)
- What stage are you at with the manuscript? (has it already been looked at by a professional/beta readers?)
- Where are you on your journey as an author?
- Do you have a deadline for this?
here’s what you should be asking them:
- What levels do they specialise in?
- Do they have experience in your genre?
- What style guide do they follow? (I follow the Oxford Style Guide)
- Do they have references and testimonials?
- What books have they edited?
- Have they worked with indie authors before? Publishers?
- If they are American, can they edit to British English style guides? And vice versa.
- What are their costs and payment terms?
- What timescales can you expect?
- Do they offer a free or paid for sample edit?
Any editor worth their salt will be able to answer those questions for you. If they can’t, I’d be tempted to move on to the next person on your list. Full transparency at this stage is vital, you don’t want to end up in a position where you choose your editor, get your heart set on them, only to discover they charge twice as much as your budget will allow and aren’t free for a year.
So, there you have it.
You are now able to make a fully informed decision on which editor you need, you understand the roles played by both the author and the editor, and that full transparency by both parties can, and will, lead to a wonderful working relationship.
If you’d like to have a chat with me about your project and my services, please do drop me line, I’d love to hear from you.
Best of luck with your project!