What Type of Editing Does My Book Need?
You’ve written your book. You’ve revised it. And now you need an editor.
Or a proofreader.
No, you need an editor. You think.
But when you say to people you need an editor, their response is, “Great! What kind of editor?” And then you’re stuck.
Don’t all editors . . . um, you know . . . edit?
Seems like a trick question, right? Yes, editors edit. But there are different levels of editing. Some editors only do one type of editing; others may do more than one.
So what kind of editing does your book need? Let’s figure it out together.
Editing as Home Renovations (No really. Stay with me here.)
Your book is a big project—probably a bigger project than you realized when you first started writing. Ah, it seemed so much simpler then.
Home renovations are big projects too. And if you’ve spent any time in the last several years flipping through channels or sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room (or any number of other places), you’ve probably seen at least one episode of a home renovation show. No matter if they plan to flip the house or fix it up to live there, they all follow the same pattern. Which is good for us because we’re going to use that to help talk about the levels of editing your book.
Don’t believe me? Let’s get started.
The Big Picture: Developmental Editing and Manuscript Critiques
Home shows begin by showing the house as it already is. Pretty soon they’re knocking down walls and ripping up cabinets and removing outdated fixtures. The house may have good bones, but it’s not ready just yet.
What they’re doing is working on the big pieces of the house. The things they have to change first so the rest of the renovations will work.
And that’s what a developmental edit or manuscript critique is like for your book. It looks at the big picture of what makes your book your book—things like plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, and voice. These are the aspects of your book that need to be addressed first. And after you get this level of editing, you’re likely going to spend more time writing or revising your book.
(Side note: what’s the difference between developmental editing and a manuscript critique? The short answer is the amount of feedback you receive is. Also, developmental editing may include more than one round, while a manuscript critique is usually one round.)
Settling In: Line Editing and Copyediting
The house on your tv screen has a reworked floor plan, a refurbished fireplace, new light fixtures and appliances—it’s really starting to come together.
And that’s how you should feel as you and your book head into line editing and copyediting. You’ve done the hard work of writing and rewriting. You’ve revised after your developmental edit or manuscript critique. Now we narrow our focus a bit.
Line editing looks at your language choices and the flow of your story. If you’ve ever read something and said, “I wouldn’t say it that way,” then you were line editing.
Copyediting is even more narrow than line editing. Copyediting looks at spelling, grammar, punctuation—all those rules you learned once upon a time (although they may have changed since then!). Copyediting may also keep track of continuity; for example, noting if the character has brown eyes on page five and green eyes on page ninety-five.
Some editors offer these as two separate services, while others (raises hand) offer this as a combined service, performing both line editing and copyediting while reviewing the manuscript. These are the only two levels of editing that can be performed at the same time.
Finishing Touches: Proofreading
Look at this house! You hardly recognize it from the beginning of the episode. It’s bright and airy and absolutely gorgeous. Now it just needs some staging for potential buyers or the eager homeowners who are anxiously awaiting the big reveal.
Your book has come a long way too from those early big-picture edits.You’re now thisclose to actually publishing your book. And you’ve had so much editing done on your book already; you can stop here, right?
Wrong! Every book needs a proofreader, ideally someone who has never worked on your book before.
Why? For starters, because perfection is unlikely. Something may have slipped through unnoticed during your rounds of editing. Or an error may have snuck in as you made revisions or reviewed your book’s edits. Anything is possible. (And that’s for all books—open up any book from one of the Big 5, and you’ll likely find errors there too.)
Proofreading is that final chance to catch any mistakes. Today, many self-publishing authors have their books proofread in Microsoft Word, but the name “proofreading” originated from reviewing page proofs, i.e., pages of text laid out on a printing press. No matter if you’ve written a picture book, chapter book, or middle grade novel, you will need to review your page proofs and have them proofread.
Can you start with a proofread?
In a word—NO! It is important that you go in order, from your big-picture edit at the beginning to your finishing touches at the end.
Let’s go back to our home renovation example. Would you stage a house for prospective buyers and then rip out a wall? Of course not. That doesn’t make any sense.
It’s the same with having your book edited. You don’t need to worry about commas and quotation marks before fixing the plot hole on page 47 or the meter on the last page of your picture book.
Your book isn’t ready for editing until you’ve revised your manuscript and taken it as far as you can with the help of alpha (or beta) readers and critique partners. And then? Then it’s time to send your book to an editor and start working with them on your manuscript, from the big picture down to the finishing touches.