What type of editing do you need for your book?

Posted 17 Mar 2021, by

Isabel Cabrera

“The end.”

Two words never sounded so good together.

However, the truth is that your book is far from done. While completing the first draft is a huge achievement, there’s still plenty of editing work to be done to get it in the best position possible for print.

You probably already know your book needs a good edit (nobody is perfect, not even you!), but what type of editing are you after? Developmental editing, copy editing, line editing, proofreading…

There are so many different types of editing out there, it’s enough to send your head into a spin.

In this guide we’ll take you through the main types of editing you have to choose from, what exactly they entail, and when it might be worthwhile going through a few different editors to get your book where you need it.

Ready to begin?! Let’s get your book ready for print.

4 different types of editing for your book

1. Developmental editing

Developmental editing is about looking at the big picture of your book. The ideas might all be there, but if there’s hiccups in your execution, vital flaws can appear in your plot, characters, subplots and more. You want to ensure these are ironed out before your book goes to print.

This is where the developmental editor steps in. They can help refine your ideas and shape your narrative to ensure there are no major inconsistencies that need to be addressed.

Book consultant and author of Girl Walks into a Bar, Strawberry Saroyan says, “A developmental editor is someone who can take a helicopter’ view of your entire piece of writing and give you a specific sense of what’s working, what’s not, and in some cases come up with solutions”.

The great thing is, a developmental editor can be brought in before your book is even finished. If you find yourself stuck along the way, lacking direction and not sure where to next, a developmental editor is able to help you out and provide that vital direction.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you go down the path of a developmental editor is that they will challenge you. That’s their job!

They won’t change your story, and if rewrites are needed, then that part is left up to you (usually). But they will ask you to justify ideas and themes in your book, so be prepared to defend yourself.

The goal is to make sure every idea, plot, theme, characterization etc., has been written with intention. You meant it to come across in that manner and are aware of how it adds to your story.

While it can come across as a personal attack – after all, who wants to defend their book they’re so proud of! – but it all comes down to justifying your choices and ensuring they’re the correct ones for your story.

Tips for working with a developmental editor:

  • Enter with an open mind: If you shut yourself off to feedback, then you’re going to gain nothing from your developmental editor.
  • Communication: In order for your developmental editor to truly understand how your book was written and what you hope to offer your audience, you need to be open with them. They need to understand your vision in order to work towards the same vision with you.
  • Big picture: Now is not the time to worry about any spelling or grammar mistakes. It’s about fine-tuning the big picture details and ensuring your book is free of any glaring plot hole, sub plot holes or character issues.

2. Line editing

The line editor is the person who goes through your book line by line, just as the name suggestions. It’s the most detailed book editing service you can get.

Naturally, you can’t skip through developmental editing to get to this step. You need to have gone through the big-picture editing before a line editor is brought in to go over your manuscript.

They’re not looking at the big picture.

If you’re book is a garden, then your line editor is the person who is down in the weeds – getting dirty and pulling each one out by hand. One by one.

Your goal as a writer is to bring your audience into a whole new world and convince them it’s real. Your line editor helps make this happen through the choice of words and sentence structure.

While they will look at how your book flows, a line editor is more interested in making sure each word in each and every sentence is used correctly and adding to your story in the right way.

Here are some of the things a line editor is on the lookout for:

  • Run on sentences.
  • Sentence fragments.
  • Cliches.
  • Jargon.
  • Sentence structure.
  • Syntax.

While a copy editor (the next step) will go through and add in commas and full stops where they’re needed, it’s the line editor who will stop and question the use of words within a sentence.

If you’re looking to understand exactly how a line editor works, here are some of the common questions they’re asking themselves as they go through your text:

  • What is the tone of this paragraph? Is it successfully portrayed through the choice of words?
  • Are there any unnecessary words or digressions in there that need to be taken out?
  • Do the sentences flow from one to the next. Is it easy to read without the need to stop and start?
  • Is the language well chosen and free of jargon and cliches that don’t suit the style?
  • Is there a consistent point of view that flows throughout the novel?

The line editor is the one that will pick up the mechanical errors in your writing, before you hand it on to the copy editor to go through and check for grammar and spelling. The line editor can take your book from good to great as they tweak your writing throughout.

Tips for working with a line editor:

  • Be open to change: The line editor isn’t going to change any major plot theme or character development. But they will change words and sentences. Before you hand your work over to them, make sure you’re not attached to any particular phrases. If you are, let them know from the beginning so they don’t step on your toes.
  • Communication: It’s important you’re on the same page (note the pun there…) with your line editor before they dive into your work. Let them know the overall tone you’re going for with your novel and the type of writing you’ve chosen and why. The more information they have on hand, the better they can edit in line with what you’re looking for.

3. Copy editing

Once you’ve sorted out those big-picture issues in your book and made all the corrections and rewrites needed, it’s time to get stuck into copy editing.

Now is the time to ensure the text is correct when it comes to spelling, grammar, jargon, punctuation, terminology, semantics and formatting.

Trained copy editors bring expertise to your book. They go above and beyond simply pointing out grammar errors and can pick up on missing information and unclear concepts throughout.

By the time you hand your book over to a copy editor, you should have gone through it with a fine-tooth comb yourself to make sure it’s in the best condition possible, as this will help you get the most value out of hiring a copy editor for the next stage.

We’re only human. Mistakes get missed. While the developmental editor looks at the overall story and themes, the copy editor will look at the finer details of your text.

Think about it, your reader is making their way through your story, only to be met with spelling mistakes the entire way through. It can be hard to focus on the story and to really get into when errors keep cropping up along the way. It can be extremely distracting.

It’s a copy editor’s job to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Many copy editors also carry out fact-checking. It’s important to discuss this with them before they take on your story, so you ensure you’re both on the same page right from the start. If yours is a very factual book, then you’re going to need a copy editor that can go through all the finer details and make sure no mistakes have been made.

If your story doesn’t consist of many facts, you can ask your copy editor to skim over them and just made sure everything is in place. Most copy editors prioritze fixing the facts that affect the manuscript the most.

A quality copy editor can have a huge impact on your manuscript and improve the overall quality of your work.

Tips for working with a copy editor:

  • Do the hard work: Before you even employ a copyeditor, you need to make sure you go through and do an in-depth edit yourself. This allows you to get the most value out of your copy writer. If your book is riddled with mistakes you could have picked up with a read through, it wastes your copy writer’s valuable time in the process.
  • Have a style to follow: Copyediting is usually based on a specific style guide. Make sure your copyeditor has this information before they dive into the text. It will determine the way in which your book is edited and is important for the general flow of the writing.
  • Communication: Once again, communication is always key. Make sure you let your copy editor know just what you’re expecting from them and this is communicated from the start. If you’re both on the same page when it comes to expectations, it makes for a much more seamless working relationship.

4. Proofreading

If you’re in a rush to get your manuscript to print, this stage is often combined with the copy editing stage.

Book proofreading is the final major stage of the editing process.

Think of them as the gatekeepers to printing your book.

No manuscript will get past them without a thorough inspection for spelling and grammar errors.

Proofreaders are meticulous, looking out for:

  • Spelling and style inconsistencies.
  • Layout and typography inconsistencies.
  • Word and page breaks.
  • Captions on photos and illustrations and page numbers.

By the time your manuscript makes it to this stage, any major issues should be resolved.

This stage is about scrutinizing the finer details so nothing is missed. Proofreaders understand book formatting, so can make sure your entire manuscript is in the correct format, with the right margins, etc. This is valuable input and insight that can make a huge difference when it comes to printing your work.

While proofreading is less extensive than a copy edit, it’s just as valuable. Consider it one more professional set of eyes over your work, giving you the green light to go to print.

Tips for working with a proofreader:

  • Provide a style sheet: You should provide your proofreader with a style sheet that let’s them know any unusual spellings or the type of style you’re going for in your manuscript. This is especially important if you have invented words for your story.
  • Discuss mark ups: Most proofreaders will mark up a physical copy of your manuscript. It’s important you understand these mark ups if you plan to go through and make the changes yourself. The best part is you get to choose what changes do get made and can clearly see all the corrections your proofreader has made.

What type of editing does your book need?

Now you know all the types of editing on offer, you might be wondering whether you have to go through every stage.

In an ideal world, yes. Each of these different types of editors carry out a very important role in the process and can help shape your manuscript and have it in the best condition possible for print.

Of course, with budget and time constraints to contend with, it’s not always possible to put your work through each and every one of these stages. And that’s OK.

There are some stages you’ll be able to carry out yourself. For example, you might hire a developmental editor to look at the overall story, and take on the copy editing tasks yourself.

Some editors also combine these roles for you, carrying out copy editing and proofreading in one to make the process faster and easier.

You know your work best, so it’s up to you to decide what type of editors are most essential to your manuscript.

The most important thing is to make sure you communicate clearly and effectively with your chosen editor to improve your book before it’s sent out into the world.

Once you have reached this step, it’s time to sit back and crack open that bottle of bubbles. It really is “The end”.

(Until it’s time to market your book, but let’s leave that one for now!).

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