So. You finished a piece of writing. Congratulations! You’ve made it further than the majority of people who want to be writers. But that doesn’t mean your work is done! You still have to go back and revise and edit. You may have heard writers talking about editing, but do you know the different kinds or when to do what? Do you know what types of editing you can do on your own and when you may want to hire someone or ask for help? If not, today is the day to learn. And if you already know, how about a refresher?
First, let’s distinguish between revising and editing.
- Revising: This is when you are making changes to your work, such as rewriting characters, scenes, or the entire piece.
- Editing: These are smaller, more focused and technical changes, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and line-by-line style. This may occur at various stages of the revision process, depending on how many revisions the work has been through and how close it is to publication or querying. You may do some of this work yourself, or you may find help from others. Developmental editing (which we’ll get into in a minute) is on the border of these two, as it tackles big picture issues of the story while still being considered editing.
I know, I know. The line is a little tight there sometimes. But both of these are critical to the development of a good piece of work. In fact, revising can fix a bad book. See what Alex Bracken has to say about it:
Okay. So now that we have editing and revising straight and we understand how important editing is, let’s take a closer look.
Developmental Editor: This person takes your manuscript and looks for overall problems, such as issues with character arcs and development, plot and pacing, and loose ends and holes.
- This type of editing tends to be the most expensive, but it is vital to the development of the story.
- This editing should really only be done after several rounds of editing on your own and with critique partners and beta readers. Then you can go ahead and hire one.
- This may not be strictly necessary to hire professionally if you plan to query, but it is non-negotiable if you plan to self-publish.
Copyeditor: This person looks at your work from a technical standpoint. In this pass of editing, the editor is searching for problems with things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They are not looking for big picture issues or style issues.
Similarly, line editing is looking at your work closely on a creative and stylistic level. A line editor will look for overused words and phrases, awkward or overly verbose sentences and passages, run-on sentences, pacing, and confusing writing. They approach with an eye for detail and clarity, looking at the ease of reading your work.
- The overlap between copyediting and line editing is pretty large, and not every editor will distinguish between the two.
- The cost for this is often somewhere between developmental editing and proofreading.
Proofreading: This is typically the last step of the editing process, as this type of editor is only looking for things like typos and missed errors from early editing passes. It is the last clean sweep before publishing.
- Tends to be least expensive.
- Critical for self-publishing, but still important for querying.
- The very last step, after all other changes are made.
Whew! Okay. So now we have the types of editing straight, and we understand the difference in content and cost.
But editing can be super expensive, and everyone likes to save a little money. So let’s think about what we can do ourselves versus what we should hire out or ask someone to do for us.
- Developmental Editing
- First of all, NEVER hire a professional to look at a first draft. You are throwing money out the window. Do everything you possibly can on your own and with beta readers and critique partners before spending any money!
- As I said above, this is a must for independent or self-publishing. Hire a professional!
- If you plan to query, you may choose to hire someone if you want to spend the money. It can’t hurt, but it’s also not necessary. And it will definitely help you polish up that manuscript!
- If you want to attempt any developmental editing on your own, I suggest leaving the manuscript out of sight and working on something else long enough to forget the details. You need to look with fresh eyes. Personally, I set a minimum of two weeks, if I can, for shorter works and one month for full-length works before I allow myself to look at the document again.
- Beta readers and critique partners can offer some developmental editing, if you find the right ones and ask nicely.
- Copyediting and Line Editing
- Probably wait until after developmental editing is done. You don’t want to still be making big picture changes when you’re line editing and fixing grammar; more will likely pop up, and then you’re wasting time, money, and effort.
- Sometimes we are okay doing this on our own, particularly if we let it sit for long enough and forget it. But it might be better to ask a writer friend or, if you can’t find someone willing, a professional to look over your work. It is hard to see flaws in your own writing, as our brains tend to skip over things and fill in blanks so we don’t always catch common errors.
- This is a good way to learn how to improve our writing, also, by asking others to critique flaws in our writing style or weaknesses in our knowledge. It will all get better with time!
- You may consider hiring a professional if you don’t have a friend good at grammar and writing, if you plan to self-publish, or if you struggle with your own grammar and writing style.
- Do this last. Very last step.
- Please do not do this on your own. While you may be good at catching errors in other people’s work, as I said above, it is all too easy to miss errors in our own work because of our brains and the closeness to the story.
- If you have a friend you trust, have them proofread.
- If you don’t have a friend you trust, hire a professional.
- If you plan to query, make sure you get someone to proofread.
- If you plan to self-publish, for the love of all things good, make sure you get a proofreader. This one is especially critical; while one typo may be forgivable, a reader who finds multiple typos and simple mistakes in a finished, published book is less likely to trust your future books and may give up on you altogether. I’ve done it, and I know other people who have as well. It looks unprofessional and messy. Do yourself a favor and avoid the hassle!
That was a lot of information, but understanding the editing process is crucial to producing a polished manuscript, wherever it is destined to be published. I hope this overview has given you a better understanding of what types of editing exist, when you may want to hire a professional, what you can do yourself, and other little details you may not have considered before. Good luck with your own revising and editing, and be sure to leave questions and comments below!
I am currently preparing to offer all three types of editing to writers, for any length of manuscript (though my focus is fantasy). If you are interested, or if you are interested in consulting with me about biology or in need of a map for your world, please keep an eye on my Services page for more information.
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