• Jess Lawrence

What are the different types of editing?


Your manuscript will require different levels of editing at different stages of its life. You don’t need to use a professional editor for any and all of these stages – learning to self-edit and enlisting trusted beta readers will get you far – but a professional can bring a new perspective that you couldn’t get elsewhere.

These stages of editing are pretty well set in the order I’m about to discuss them, and you won’t want to stray from this. It would be a waste of your time to do extensive copy-editing, for example, and then go on to make significant plot changes in a developmental edit.

We start broad and we work our way down into the minutia. So let’s do that, shall we?

Manuscript critiques

I would describe manuscript critiques as a sort of sense check. They’re slightly less involved than a developmental edit, but they cover many of the same things. You’d go for a manuscript critique when you’ve finished your first draft and want to get a fresh, professional perspective on how the story works as a whole.

We don’t care about minor issues here. Sentence structure isn’t the focus and grammar can wait its turn. Here, we’re looking at the big stuff. The scaffolding.

Other names

Manuscript evaluation, manuscript report

Focus

The big picture

When to go for one

Early: around first-draft stage

What you’ll get from it

This will vary from editor to editor, but generally you will get a lengthy report that details your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses with regards to factors like:

  • Character development

  • Pacing

  • Plot

  • Voice

  • Structure

Your next step

Once you’ve received your manuscript critique, you should take some time to really digest the feedback. Keep in mind that your manuscript is likely not much further developed beyond a first draft at this point, so the weaknesses that your editor flags are not meant to highlight your flaws, but rather to show you where to focus your efforts in the second draft.

We all have things that we miss out. I’m an underwriter, so I tend to leave descriptions of the characters and settings until later drafts. It doesn’t mean I’m bad at those things, I just don’t tend to include them when I’m initially getting the story down. This is the kind of thing a manuscript critique of my first draft might flag.

Developmental editing

A developmental edit is similar to a manuscript critique, but taken one step further. While the critique generally only provides a report of the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, the developmental edit provides an annotated version of the manuscript, too.

Other names

Substantive editing, content editing

Focus

The big picture

When to go for one

Early: around first-draft stage

What you’ll get from it

As with the manuscript critique, you should receive a separate report that highlights what the editor thinks your manuscript needs in order to improve. This could be adding or removing a character, introducing a new subplot, changing the ending, fleshing out the narrative, and so on.

Alongside this report, you will also likely receive an annotated version of your manuscript that not only highlights the important issues but also suggests how you can fix them. For example, where the report might suggest adding a subplot, the annotated manuscript might show exactly where the editor thinks you can begin to introduce this subplot.

Your next step

Like before, make sure you take plenty of time to really analyse your editor’s feedback at this stage. It’s going to be broad, big-picture stuff and the thought of making significant changes might knock the wind out of you at first. Read the feedback through, let the blow hit, get some distance, then read it through again and make a plan for implementing the fixes.

Remember that the suggestions your editor makes are advisory only. You may decide that you don’t want to cut a character or add a subplot. That is okay. Just make sure you understand why the editor made those suggestions in the first place, instead of dismissing them out of emotional frustration.

Copy-editing

Since copy-editing comes after the big-picture work, it focuses less on the broader narrative and more on the actual paragraphs, sentences and words that make up your novel. A copy-editor might still flag any big issues they find (like plot holes or redundant characters), but generally those issues ought not to be present at this stage.

This is sometimes called line editing, and while some editors will contest that line editing and copy-editing are different, they both focus on the novel at a sentence-level so I’ve grouped them here.

Other names

Line editing

Focus

The sentence- and word-level issues

When to get one

Middle to late: after several revisions and beta readers

What you’ll get from it

Many editors nowadays use Track Changes for their copy-edits, so what you will get back from this is what we would call a ‘red-lined’ version of your manuscript. The red-lining simply refers to the default colour of the Track Changes feature, not unlike the infamous ‘red pen’ we associate with editing.

You might notice that very minor edits, such as correcting a misused apostrophe or deleting a duplicate word, are not tracked simply to keep the manuscript tidy. Other edits we will track so that you can accept or reject these changes, or so that you can learn from them. For example, if I’ve had to reformat your dialogue, I will track those edits so you can see what I’ve done to make the change yourself later.

Your next step

If there was a lot of editing required, you may be taken aback by the amount of ‘red lining’ in your file. This is generally why we don’t track minor edits, because they would only add to the organised chaos. So if this happens, take a breath and be prepared to review each change carefully.

As before, remember that these edits are not mandatory. You can disagree with your editor. They are not the final word on this – it is still your story. But their feedback does come from a place of experience so do consider why they have made a change, even if you ultimately reject it. It could be that the problem is genuine but their fix isn’t in line with your style.

Proofreading

I like to call proofreading the last line of defense. It’s your final chance to spot any errors that slipped through all your other rounds of editing. Trust me, they are there. An errant comma, a stray apostrophe, a missed homophone. Even copy-editors will miss the odd one or two as they focus on the broader sentence before each individual word.

Other names

None that I’ve heard.

Focus

The real nitty-gritty word/punctuation-level stuff

When to get one

Late: after several revisions, beta readers and a copy-edit (even if that’s your own copy-edit)

What you’ll get from it

Similar to copy-editing, a lot of proofreading is done in Word using Track Changes. It may also be done on a PDF copy of the manuscript. Since there ought to be fewer mistakes to catch at this stage, the file you get back shouldn’t be too heavily red lined.

Your next step

After your proofread, your manuscript should be about as polished as it can be. It is ready for the outside world. Go forth and unleash it on your readers to rapturous applause.

You say potato…

As I mentioned a few times above, editors might vary on what they call or include in their services. I know an editor, for instance, who does what she calls ‘proof editing’ which is a hybrid of copy-editing and proofreading. It’s not always just a matter of different names though.

When you are researching an editor to work with, make sure you clearly understand what they offer and what they don’t. You might have two copy-editors on your list, but they could both provide different levels of service. This is why sample edits are helpful. Not only do they give the editor a chance to evaluate how much work your manuscript needs, they also show you, the author, what level of detail the editor will put in.

That about covers the different types of editing that you – or a professional – can do on your manuscript. Want to learn more about how I might be able to help polish your novel? Then get in touch today for a free sample edit.

#writingadvice

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