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Editing vs. Editing vs. Editing

caroline-hileyby Caroline Hiley, editor

Part of finding the right editor for your work is sharing the same vocabulary. The publishing industry has not standardized its terms for the various types of editing; so it’s up to the indie author and the indie editor to make sure they understand each other when the time comes to prepare a manuscript for submission or publication.

There are many terms involved: developmental editing, line editing, content editing, substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading.

Responsibility falls on the editor to make it clear what services they offer, and to price the services in relation to each other. But it helps for the author to ask for what they want and need, so both parties start off on the right foot. Discuss definitions before you sign any contract.

Broadly, if your draft is done but you need help organizing its structure on the gross level—storyline, character development, theme, writing style, all the elements that put a book together—look for a developmental editor, sometimes called a content editor.

If your book is essentially finished but still has rough spots you can sense but not identify, then look for a line editor or substantive editor.

If you’re totally done with the manuscript and have had several people critique it, and you’ve taken a break and looked at it fresh, and tweaked everything you can, and are ready to send it somewhere or self-publish, look for a copyeditor.

Put another way: Developmental editing = whole book level; substantive/line editing = scene/paragraph/sentence level; copyediting = sentence/word/punctuation level. Building, refining, polishing. Note: these are my definitions, which is why the editors you’re considering should clarify these terms in their service agreements.

Proofreading is the last-last-last thing done to a manuscript before it goes into production, when all content issues have been addressed. It is generally done by someone other than the editor who worked on the book—cold eyes, a separate person, and expense that needs to be factored into the budget.

Before hiring an editor, ask them to define their services, so you know what to expect. This avoids the shock that many authors suffer when they get their manuscript back loaded with changes and queries, when all they anticipated was some tidying up of their spelling and punctuation.

Getting it clear up front what “editing” means will set the stage for a successful partnership.

Caroline Hiley‘s focus in all editing is consistency, accuracy, and clarity, so that authors can successfully connect with their readers.


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