Types of Editors (Yes, There’s More Than One)

Thank you to Naomi Blackburn over at The Author CEO for giving me the opportunity to write about one of my favorite topics: editing, of course! Below I’ve copied and pasted the blog I wrote, just as it appears on Naomi’s site.

To kick off 2014, The Author CEO’s favorite editor, Jessica Swift of Swift Ink Editorial Services,  is back to educate authors on types of editors and their roles to help ensure that the right editor is hired for the right job.

So you finished your manuscript. You love it. You’ve sweated and cried and bled on it for months (years? decades?) and now you’re ready for . . . what? Well, you’re not sure. Everyone seems to be going on about the importance of having an editor, so you decide you should have one, too. After all, this is your baby. You want it to be perfect. So you ask around and get some names. And you draft an email. “Dear Ms. Swift; I’m interested in talking with you about my manuscript. I need a proofreader. Please call me at 1-800-confused-writer so we can discuss. Thank you.” There. Done. You’ll get it proofread and that’s that.

OK. While the above is very oversimplified, it does exemplify the type of query I sometimes get. Immediately my interest is piqued and I want to know: does s/he really mean “proofread”?

Many writers don’t know that there are different types of edits that a manuscript needs. What’s the difference between a copyedit and a proofread? Did you even know there was one?

Writers often come to me and say they need an editor. When I ask them what type of edit they’re looking for, I am met with silence (if we’re talking on the phone).  I can practically see the blank look on their faces. “Um. Well. I don’t know,” is often the response I get.
Well folks, I’m here to tell you that you need to know! Knowledge is power and it’s important for you to understand what your manuscript needs. So, I’ve outlined below the different types of edits and give some examples of what questions/considerations editors might ask themselves while they’re performing the edit.

(PLEASE NOTE: Lots of people use different names for different types of edits. My list here conforms with the descriptions and titles given in The Chicago Manual of Style[the publishing bible]. ALSO: This is not a comprehensive “be all and end all” kind of explanation. Rather, it’s information to help you figure out what you might need and what steps you need to take are so you can bring your baby to the next level.)

Substantive edit: Focusing on large structural issues, character and plot development, narrative and voice, and plot holes. A large-scale edit performed with an eye on the manuscript as a whole and looking at places that may need to be reworked and/or restructured. May involve developing a structure for the manuscript.

Some questions the editor might ask/address (for example):

  • Should the content that appears in what is currently a later chapter be presented at the beginning of the manuscript? Or vice versa?
  • If the manuscript is a collection/anthology, does organization need to be applied to the pieces so that the overall piece is cohesive?
  • Is there an existing overall structure that makes logical sense?
  • Are there sections that need to be tightened/rewritten?

Line edit/manuscript edit: Focuses closely on paragraphs and lines within them and how they work together. (Sometimes performed in conjunction with a copyedit.) Close attention is paid to every word and mark of punctuation.

  • Are there successful transitions between paragraphs?
  • Are there transitions at all?
  • Does each sentence support and flow with the next?

Copyedit (sometimes performed with line edit): Focuses on diction and grammar. Also ensures that the manuscript style is consistent and conforms to The Chicago Manual of Style (or the particular manual that’s being used).

  • Are you using the best words and strongest language?
  • Are your styles consistent throughout the manuscript (i.e., are numbers spelled out versus appearing as numerals)?
  • Are any words missing?
  • Are any words misspelled?

Proofreading: Typically performed after a manuscript has been typeset (ready to become a hard copy book), proofreading focuses on the typographical elements of the manuscript, including ensuring page numbers appear where they are supposed to, words break where they should, spacing is consistent, and, of course, that all words are spelled correctly.

So there you have it. I hope what I’ve provided for you here helps you sort out and better understand the different types of edits that are out there, and what particular needs your manuscript might have. After all, you wouldn’t send your child out into the world without any shoes, so why would you send your manuscript out into the world without giving it its proper legs?

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