What’s the big deal about editing? You add some periods, delete a few commas, run spellcheck and voila, you’ve just edited a book—well done! Nope. It takes years of dedication to the craft before editors develop the necessary skills to help authors say precisely what they want to say in the most effective, affecting way possible.
For the new author, the whole editing process can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure what type of edit to choose for your manuscript. One of the most confusing parts of the editing process is simply understanding the different types of edits.
Types of Edits
Manuscript Critique —> Comprehensive Edit (Line Edit) —> Copyedit —> Proofread
The manuscript critique is a general assessment of your manuscript. It’s a bird’s-eye view of your entire story. Your editor looks at your manuscript as a whole and provides actionable advice on how to improve your story—in the form of an editorial memo.
Here’s what you may find within an editorial memo:
- An examination of your narrative voice and ways to enhance it
- Specific advice on how to improve the plot to keep your readers engaged
- Feedback on where you’re missing opportunities to develop your characters
Comprehensive Edit/Line Edit
While a manuscript critique is an entry-level type of edit that can help clarify your story, a comprehensive edit (which includes a line edit) is the most in-depth edit offered.
It addresses structural issues, similar to a critique, but here the editor is also doing a line edit.
A line edit addresses your writing style and language use at the sentence and paragraph level. The purpose of a line edit is not to comb your manuscript for errors—rather, a line edit focuses on the way you use language to communicate your story to the reader. Is your language clear, fluid, and pleasurable to read? Does it convey a sense of atmosphere, emotion, and tone? Do the words you’ve chosen convey a precise meaning, or are you using broad generalizations and clichés?
A line edit may get you to say, “With a few strokes of the pen on each line, [my editor] made it one million percent better. I couldn’t believe that such tight, measured prose was lurking inside my overwrought sentences, and frankly I had no idea how in the hell she did it.”
Many authors misunderstand the difference between a line edit and a copyedit. There are similarities between the two: both pay detailed attention to your use of language and involve a mark-up on the pages of your manuscript. But make no mistake, these are two completely different processes, handled by professionals with different skill sets, and should occur at very different times during the editing process.
The goal of a copyedit is to address flaws on a technical level—to make sure the writing that appears on the page is in accordance with industry standards.
- Corrects spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax
- Ensures consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization
- Tracks macro concerns like internal consistency.
There will be some overlap between the work of a line editor and a copyeditor. Most line editors will point out technical errors or logical inconsistencies when they jump out, because they’re trying to make your writing better, and editors tend to be perfectionists.
So, to make a sweeping and totally reductive generalization, the job of an editor is to help you tell a better story, and the job of a copyeditor is to make sure the grammar on every page is correct.
In publishing, proofreading happens after the manuscript has been typeset. A final copy of the manuscript, or proof, is then examined by a professional proofreader.
The proofreader corrects awkward word or page breaks and may do some light copyediting.
Professional proofreading is required by traditional publishers as a quality assurance measure. Many self-publishing authors who have had their manuscript professionally copyedited tend to skip the proofread. If you’re on a budget, you might try to proofread your own work, since there won’t be as many errors to contend with at that stage.
In sum, working with a professional editor is both a challenge and a joy. It forces you to face the ho-hum aspects of your manuscript and turn them into a hell-yeah! But, most of all, the work you do with an editor will help you become a better writer in the long run. You’ll hone your skills and will carry those lessons with you to future books.