You’ve written your book and you know the wilderness of editing is next. You also know there’s no way you can skip it, but you stand on the outskirts of the forest and quake. It’s huge and dark and you don’t even know what path you should take to enter it, much less what to do once you are inside.
Take a deep breath. Now, let’s see if we can light a way through the tangle.
There is no High Editing Council of Olympus that has handed down the exact terms and definitions of these, so if you’ve heard slightly different descriptions or terms, I’m not a heretic or an ignoramus, I just subscribe to another sect’s nomenclature.
This targets the way the story is written on a structural level and is what technically happens when you rewrite your book because oh wow, the plot stinks.
Is: An overall pruning of your plot, characters, story flow, pacing. Highlights vague or confusing passages, examines the logic and sense of your plot progression and character arcs, advises you on what scenes to cut or add.
Is not: A critique. A fix of sentences, word usage, punctuation, or grammar.
It’s similar to a critique in that it highlights many of the same flaws, but an actual content edit works more in depth and closely with you than a critique.
Probably the hardest part of editing for a lot of people. More about style than content.
Is: Going through your manuscript specifically targeting sentence structure. Fixing run-on sentences, choppy sentences, too many short or long sentences, awkward verb usage, dangling participles, overused words, oddly organized paragraphs, making sure you used the correct synonym for the meaning you want to convey, pointing out that you use a lot of em dashes or don’t ever use ellipses even when it’s a good idea.
Is not: A spell-check or a plot critique.
The easiest edit for those who are good at grammar and punctuation but one of the hardest for those who aren’t.
Is: A check/fix for incorrect spelling, misplaced homonyms and homophones, incorrect punctuation, continuity errors (family 1 fights for the North and family 2 for the South on page 3, and two pages later it’s reversed and then a few pages later it’s back to the first stated*), and keeps your colloquial spelling consistent (catching if you spelled it honour on page 34 and honor on page 76).
Is not: A critique, nor a style edit that rewords your sentences. When you hire this out, it’s not their job to tell you how you could have written your book better.
Your copy edit may have been fantastic, but formatting often means more errors crop up, particularly if you’re formatting for ebook formats. I can’t begin to list the number of Kindle books I’ve opened and as quickly closed, because the formatting errors just made the text too hard to read. This is the last step before publishing, or before sending it off to your publisher if you’re querying for a small publisher.
Traditionally, proofreaders would also compare the proof copy to the copy edited copy to make sure sections hadn’t been left out in the formatting.
Is: A fine tooth comb that checks for typographical errors, such as a quotation mark left off at the end of a sentence or a ‘the’ left out when the final edits were incorporated.
Is not: An edit. Of any kind.
Beginning writers often need all three rounds of editing + proofreading, but more advanced writers can usually combine at least the first two- if not all three- when they’re doing it for themselves. Those of you who are hiring out will have to decide for yourselves what works best, or get a professional opinion on what you need. That said, it’s usually a good idea to hire out a copy edit or a proofread, especially if you’ve been staring at the manuscript for weeks through edits and revisions. A fresh pair of eyes will almost always catch something you didn’t.
TIP: When hiring an editor, it’s a good idea to check the precise descriptions of what they cover in their editing terms. Ask them, if they don’t have descriptions posted. That way you should hopefully avoid problems like them doing something you didn’t want, or not doing something you did want.
Edits are hard, especially if you need multiple rounds of it, but it’s more than worth it in order to present a polished product to your readers.
Merry Writing… and may all of your editing go well!
*Actual error found in a traditionally published juvenile series about the Civil War. That was the worst, but there were others. Needless to say, it was a frustrating awakening to the necessity of having copy editors.