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Different Types of Book Editing

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One of the first questions new authors come to me with is, “how much is it going to cost me to hire an editor for my book?

It seems like such a simple question, but sadly there's just too much that goes into calculating the fees for book editing that it's impossible to give a simple answer:

  • How long is your book
  • What is your timeframe
  • How much editing has the book gone through already

But most of all: what kind of editing does your book need?

There are different types of book editing: each with their own set of best practices, each with their own set of expectations, and each with their own role in getting your story from manuscript to polished publication.

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is a crucial stage in the book editing process, focused on shaping the overall structure and content of a manuscript. It goes beyond correcting grammar and punctuation, with the primary objective of helping authors refine their ideas and storytelling techniques.

During the developmental editing phase, an editor works closely with the author to identify any weaknesses or inconsistencies within the narrative. This process often involves analyzing plot development, character arcs, pacing, and overall story structure. By providing constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement, a developmental editor helps authors enhance the coherence and impact of their work.

One key aspect of developmental editing is assessing the plot's effectiveness. Editors carefully evaluate how well events unfold, ensuring that they are compelling, logical, and engaging for readers. They analyze whether conflicts are adequately introduced and resolved, evaluating how well each scene contributes to advancing the story's central themes or goals.

Character development is another critical element addressed during this stage. Developmental editors delve into each character's motivations, behaviors, and relationships to ensure they are fully realized on the page. They may provide guidance on creating well-rounded characters with distinct personalities and growth throughout the narrative.

Furthermore, developmental editors scrutinize pacing to ensure that it aligns with readers' expectations. They assess whether scenes flow smoothly into one another or if there are abrupt shifts that disrupt immersion. Editors help authors strike a balance between building tension and allowing moments of respite within their stories.

Developmental editing focuses on refining a manuscript's core elements such as plot development, character arcs, themes, and overall structure. Through constructive feedback and collaboration with authors during this stage of editing, editors play an instrumental role in transforming raw manuscripts into polished literary works that captivate readers from start to finish.

When Do You Need Developmental Editing?

Other than a few rounds of quick self-editing, developmental editing is the first serious type of book editing that any manuscript will end up going through and aims to shape and mold your manuscript into a cohesive and engaging piece of literature.

Since this type of editing is focused on the overall structure, content, and organization of your book, developmental editing delves into the core elements that make up your story.

You should consider hiring a developmental editor when you need assistance with:

  1. Finishing your first draft: If you are having trouble finishing your first draft, or if you have completed a first draft of your manuscript but feel that the story lacks direction, consistency, or depth, a developmental editor can help identify and address these issues.
  2. Plot and structure: If the plot is disjointed or filled with holes, a developmental editor can provide guidance on restructuring the narrative to create a more engaging and cohesive story.
  3. Character development: When characters feel one-dimensional or inconsistent, a developmental editor can help flesh them out, ensuring they have clear motivations, arcs, and relatable traits.
  4. World-building: In genres like fantasy or science fiction, where world-building is crucial, a developmental editor can help authors create immersive and believable settings.
  5. Audience alignment: If you want to make sure your work resonates with a specific target audience, a developmental editor can offer insights on tailoring the content accordingly.
  6. Subgenre guidance and alignment: Some of the major genres are pretty easy for authors to identify and meet standards for. Sometimes, however, authors aim for one genre but the story that comes out doesn't quite fit within that genre. Other times, authors want to write to a smaller, harder-to-define subgenre, in which case, a developmental editor with expertise in that genre can provide guidance on meeting genre conventions and reader expectations.
  7. Dealing with feedback: If you've received feedback from alpha readers or critique partners and are unsure how to implement it effectively, a developmental editor can help interpret and apply the feedback.
  8. Polishing for publication: If you're planning to submit your manuscript to an agent for traditional publishing, or if you've already submitted a few times but got rejected, a developmental editor can help make sure your story stands the best chance possible for being picked up by addressing any and all of the above issues.

Overall, developmental editing is particularly valuable for authors who want to refine and strengthen the foundational elements of their manuscript to create a more compelling and marketable book. Working with a skilled editor during this stage of the process will ensure that your book reaches its full potential and resonates with readers on a deeper level. Developmental editing provides invaluable guidance and support to authors by refining the core elements of their stories and transforming them into captivating literary works.

Line Editing

In my opinion, line editing is the most important type of editing. If you're going to cut corners anywhere, do it anywhere but this stage in the process. Line editing focuses on improving the overall flow and rhythm of the writing.

If development editing takes care of what you say in your story, line editing takes care of how you say it.

This type of editing dives deep into the structure and style of individual sentences and paragraphs line by line (hence its name), ensuring that they are polished to deliver the impact you're after.

A skilled line editor examines every line meticulously, scrutinizing every word choice, sentence structure, and paragraph transition to enhance readability and coherence.

One aspect of line editing involves examining the language used in the manuscript. The editor pays attention to the author's tone and voice, making sure it remains consistent throughout. They may suggest revisions or rephrase sentences to better reflect the intended tone or target audience.

Additionally, a line editor looks for redundancy or excessive wordiness within sentences, streamlining them for clarity and conciseness. By eliminating unnecessary words or phrases, they help tighten up the writing without sacrificing its intended meaning.

Sentence structure is another significant element addressed during line editing. The editor analyzes sentence length and variety to ensure a pleasant reading experience. They might rearrange sentences or break longer ones into shorter ones when necessary to maintain a well-paced narrative flow. Moreover, they focus on improving sentence clarity by eliminating ambiguity or vague phrasing that could confuse readers.

Paragraph transitions play a vital role in maintaining coherence throughout a book. Line editors pay close attention to how ideas flow from one paragraph to another smoothly. They look for logical connections between paragraphs and may suggest restructuring or rewriting to enhance continuity between thoughts and concepts within each section of text. In addition to addressing language usage, sentence structure, and paragraph transitions, line editors also correct any grammatical errors spotted along the way.

While their primary focus is not strictly proofreading or copyediting per se, line editors still keep an eye out for common grammatical mistakes such as subject-verb agreement issues or punctuation errors that could hinder comprehension.

Overall, line editing aims to refine your writing on a micro level by enhancing the clarity, cohesiveness, and elegance of each sentence and paragraph. It elevates your prose by improving the pacing, flow, and overall readability of your book. A skilled line editor can elevate your manuscript, ensuring that it captivates readers with its polished language while effectively conveying your ideas.

For this reason, I often recommend performing your line edit after you've received feedback from your sensitivity readers (if you're using sensitivity readers) as a line editor will be able to interpret and apply the feedback in character voice and tonality much easier at this stage.

When Do You Need Line Editing?

Because this type of editing delves deep into the finer details, ensuring clarity, coherence, and consistency throughout your writing. Line editing is typically necessary when you have completed a draft of your manuscript and after you have worked through and resolved any potential plot holes or structural issues, but want to enhance the overall quality of your prose.

You should consider hiring a line editor when you need assistance with:

  1. Polishing up those final details: When you've already completed multiple drafts of your manuscript and are looking to fine-tune the language and writing style for a more polished final product.
  2. Grammar and syntax: If the manuscript contains grammatical errors, awkward sentence structures, or issues with punctuation and syntax, a line editor can correct these issues.
  3. Flow and transitions: When the writing lacks smooth transitions between paragraphs and sections, a line editor can help improve the overall flow and coherence of the narrative. Line editors can also help refine the transitions between chapters.
  4. Dialogue and character voices: Line editors can review dialogue to ensure it sounds authentic and suits the characters' personalities and backgrounds. They also ensure that each character has a unique voice and presence throughout the story.

Additionally, if you are writing a book in anything other than your primary language, a line editor can help make sure that you capture those nuanced differences that many translators miss.

One key indicator that you may need line editing is if you feel your writing lacks fluidity or does not engage readers as effectively as you want. Maybe you're worried that your story has gotten boring or that the romance is burning too slow? When your sentences feel clunky or convoluted, a line editor can help smooth out the rough edges by restructuring sentences for better flow and readability.

A line editor's goal is to enhance readability while preserving your unique voice and style.

Copy Editing

For most authors, when they think of hiring a book editor, they think of something that resembles copy editing. Copy editing focuses primarily on improving the clarity, style, and accuracy of the text. This type of editing ensures that the author's message is effectively communicated to readers by refining grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure.

Copy editors scrutinize punctuation marks such as commas, semicolons, and dashes to refine sentence structure and enhance flow. Additionally, copy editors pay close attention to spelling errors or typos that may have been overlooked during previous rounds of editing. By rectifying these issues, they ensure that the manuscript meets high publication standards while maintaining the author's unique voice.

Moreover, copy editors focus on consistency in language and specific word usage throughout the book. They check for variations in spelling or vocabulary choices within the manuscript and ensure conformity according to appropriate style guides or specific author preferences. Quite often, if I notice a discrepancy in spelling or capitalization (especially for things like a character name or made-up-word) within the manuscript, I will confirm with the author which spelling should prevail and ensure that other instances of that word are spelled correctly.

Consistency extends beyond individual words—it also encompasses maintaining a consistent tone and voice throughout the narrative so that readers feel engaged throughout their reading experience.

Finally, many copy editors will also perform any fact-checking you may need as well as usage checks for things like song lyrics and quotes from other works that you might have included.

When Do You Need a Copy Edit?

Copy editing is the last formal round of editing before moving on to proofreading.

You should consider hiring a copy edit if you need assistance with:

  1. Final manuscript polishing: If you have completed all the developmental editing and line editing stages and want to prepare the manuscript for publication or submission to ensure it conforms to industry standards.
  2. Grammar and punctuation: For manuscripts with grammatical errors, punctuation issues, or inconsistencies in language usage, copy editing provides correction and improvement.
  3. Powerful word usage: Copy editors will cut out fluffy or light filler words to make sure every word on the page delivers in power. For example, copy editors might replace a verb and its modifier (ie: ran quickly) with a stronger verb (ie: sprinted) to deliver a bigger punch.
  4. Spelling and typographical errors: If you need to eliminate spelling mistakes, typographical errors, and inconsistencies in spelling (e.g., British vs. American English), you can benefit from copy editing.
  5. Style guide adherence: If you need to adhere to specific style guides or publishing guidelines (e.g., Chicago Manual of Style, AP Style), copy editing ensures compliance.
  6. Manuscript formatting: Copy editing generally includes formatting adjustments to ensure that the manuscript follows consistent and appropriate formatting guidelines for headings, citations, references, and other elements. (note, this is not the same formatting you would need for self-publishing your book, but rather formatting the manuscript to be ready for submitting to an agent).

The copy editor acts as a meticulous gatekeeper who ensures that all these elements align harmoniously. A copy edit is necessary when you want to refine your manuscript, prepare it for submission to agents or publishers, enhance readability, and maintain consistency in language and style.

Hiring a professional copy editor saves you from potential embarrassment caused by grammatical errors or inconsistencies that can mar an otherwise excellent story. Their expertise in language mechanics helps elevate your prose and ensures your story shines through without being hindered by distracting mistakes.

Why Are There So Many Different Types of Book Editing Available?

A woman is editing different types of books at her desk for the blog post "different types of book editing"

At this point, you're probably wondering why the industry even needs so many different types of book editing—couldn't one editor just go through and check for each of these things themselves?

And technically, yes, one person could go through your manuscript and check for each of these things. And, as a matter of fact, many editors do more than one type of editing: many developmental editors will also perform line editing and many line editors will also offer copy editing, etc. But the truth is, there are many different types of editing because each type serves a distinct purpose and addresses specific aspects of a written work. These variations in editing exist due to the diverse needs of authors, the complexity of writing, industry standards, reader expectations, and the specialization of editors.

Authors come with varying skill levels, writing abilities, and goals. Some may need basic assistance with grammar and spelling, while others require help with complex structural issues or refining their writing style. Some authors have a great story idea, but don't really know much about book structure or story telling. Others can plan out a great story but get lost in the details.

Writing itself is a multifaceted process. Manuscripts are intricate, comprising various components that need attention such as plot, characters, dialogue, and sentence-level issues. Each of these components intertwine in different ways. Different types of editing specialize in these distinct areas, allowing for a more comprehensive assessment and improvement of the work. Imagine trying to get through your finished manuscript in one go and having to find and fix every instance of every potential issue. It would just feel impossible.

And because the publishing industry has established standards and expectations for written works, having different types of editing helps ensure that manuscripts meet these standards and are of high quality—whether intended for traditional publishing or self-publishing.

Finally, having different types of book editing allows editors to specialize. Editors often specialize in specific types of editing based on their skills and expertise—some are better at structural editing and plots while others thrive more in the detail work of copy editing. This specialization enables them to offer targeted assistance to authors in particular areas of need, ensuring that the author is able to get exactly what they need.

What About Proofreading?

Though it is usually done separately, proofreading is an essential step in the book editing process. Proofreading focuses on the fine details to ensure accuracy and polish in the final manuscript. A proofreader meticulously reviews the text for errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and typos.

This is done with a keen eye for consistency in style, formatting, and language usage. One of the primary objectives of proofreading is to eliminate any grammatical errors that might have been missed during earlier stages of editing. A proficient proofreader pays attention to subject-verb agreement, verb tense consistency, and proper use of pronouns. They also scrutinize sentence structure to improve readability and eliminate awkward phrasing or ambiguity.

Overall, hiring a professional proofreader guarantees that your manuscript will be free from minor mistakes that could potentially distract readers from your story or message.

The way I like to describe it to my clients is that editing will make your story shine, proofreading will make your story error-free.

When Do You Need a Proofreader?

A proofreader is the final line of defense before your manuscript reaches its intended audience. Once every other round of editing has been completed, that's when you want to do the final round of proofreading (either by doing the proofreading yourself or by hiring a proofreader).

I said earlier that if you were looking to cut corners, line editing is definitely not a corner to cut…and the same thing goes for proofreading.

I've seen so many authors go through editing and then leave entire portions of their manuscript essentially in first-draft form. Think of it this way: you've finished writing your book and are going through and editing it. You come across a chapter that you feel needs to be expanded on, and so you begin writing and end up adding three more pages into that chapter.

At that point, those three new pages are unedited pages. They are still, essentially, rough draft material even though they were added during a round of edits. They can, and probably do, contain errors.

In fact, with almost every book I've ever ghostwritten for clients, those are the areas where I will find the most mistakes: areas that were added in during the editing stage and then left unedited.

That's one of the biggest reasons you want to bring in a proofreader after all your rounds of editing are done, to pick up on those last, sticky mistakes that make it through because they're hiding as fixes to previous mistakes.

What kind of editing does your book need?

So which of these different types of book editing do you think you need?

This gets a little tricky because, as you can imagine, each of these different types of editing has its own fee structure. One thing you don't want to do is pay for the wrong type of editing.

And it's not just you as an author—editors don't want you to be in that position either. I've had multiple clients hire me to do a copy edit, only for me to have to go to them and recommend that they get a developmental instead due to too many structural issues within the story. This isn't a good position to be in, either as the author or as the editor.

One way to tell which type of editing your book needs is just to be honest with yourself about where your writing might be the weakest and then looking for an editor who can help over come that. If you know your story has a weak structure or potential plot holes, look for a developmental editor. If you know your story lacks consistency or that there are issues with character voice, look for a line editor. And if you know your story has trouble with word choice and impact, look for a copy editor.

But if you're not sure which level of editing you need, or if you can't put your finger on the weakest areas of your manuscript, then you may need a little help with choosing the right editing.

Get Feedback from Others

If you're finally ready to move onto editing, but aren't sure which type of editor to approach about your project, then one of the best places to start will be getting feedback on your manuscript. This is the perfect time to approach alpha readers for a first pass at your book to help you identify weaker areas, plot holes, and other potential issues.

The biggest advantage to approaching alpha readers for feedback like this is that you have control over who you ask, which means you can take your time and choose people who will closely match your ideal reader, which makes any feedback they send back to you that much more valuable. These people aren't usually being paid to provide you with the feedback—they agree to do it because they are already a fan of your type of book and it's exciting to get in to the process in this way and help a new book come to life.

You can then evaluate their feedback and make a decision about the type of editing your book needs based on what they've said.

If you're not sure what type of feedback to ask for, you can grab this Manuscript Feedback Form Template here for just $3. Make a copy of the template for each new manuscript, then share the form with your alpha readers or anyone else you ask for feedback from so they know what you're looking for and you can collect their feedback all in one place for easy evaluation and implementation.

Get an Editorial Assessment

If you're not sure where to start, what type of editing your book needs, and you have no one to ask for feedback, you might consider getting an editorial assessment.

During an editorial assessment, an editor will carefully read through your manuscript and evaluate various aspects such as plot structure, character development, pacing, dialogue, thematic consistency, and overall storytelling effectiveness. They will then write out a report and provide feedback on the clarity of your ideas and whether they are effectively conveyed to the reader.

The editor will also assess the coherence and flow of your narrative arc to ensure its logical progression. This type of assessment not only looks at the micro-level details but also considers broader elements such as genre appropriateness, target audience engagement, marketability potential, and any potential gaps in information or research.

An experienced editor will provide constructive criticism while highlighting specific strengths within your manuscript as well. They may suggest alternative approaches or recommend additional research if necessary.

Editorial assessments are an investment, usually ranging somewhere between $300 and $500. But they are worth every penny. Typically, you can take the report from your assessment and use that as you edit your book yourself, or take it to an editor of your choice to implement the suggestions, or even hire the editor who gave you the assessment to implement their own suggestions (and a lot of times, you'll get a discount for doing this third option).

Do You Need to Hire a Different Editor for each Type of Edit?

I really hate it when I have to say “it depends”… but it depends.

In most cases, hiring a single editor who is experienced in multiple editing styles can be advantageous. A skilled editor with expertise in developmental editing can help you shape the overall structure and content of your book, ensuring that the narrative flows smoothly and that character development is compelling. Simultaneously, they can also provide line editing services to refine sentence structures, eliminate redundancies, and enhance the clarity and coherence of your writing.

Furthermore, having a single editor for multiple types of edits helps maintain consistency throughout your book. They will have an intimate understanding of your writing style, voice, and intended message – acquired through working on different aspects of your manuscript – which enables them to apply this knowledge consistently across all levels of edits.

This ensures that your book retains its unique personality while being polished on various fronts.

And that's not even counting the cost benefits of hiring one person over hiring two individual people. Working with one editor fosters better communication and collaboration. Building a relationship with an editor who understands the intricacies of your work can lead to improved productivity and efficiency throughout the editing process.

They will become familiar with your goals as an author and develop insights into what resonates best with both you as the writer and potential readers.

While there may be certain circumstances where specialized editors are required (such as fact-checking or substantively complex works), hiring one skilled editor who possesses diverse expertise is almost always your best bet. Not only does it streamline the editing process and maintain consistency, but it also allows for better collaboration and cost-effectiveness. Ultimately, you want to find an editor who can tailor their approach to meet the unique needs of your manuscript while encompassing various editing styles.

Final Thoughts on the Different Types of Book Editing

The editorial process probably looks like a big mess from the outside, and it definitely looks much more complicated than most people realize.

But it works.

And the reason it works is because having such a robust and complex process allows you to get the editing you need that best suits your story, rather than forcing an all-or-nothing scenario or applying a blanket-package to all manuscripts regardless of their specific strengths and needs. And so while on the surface it may make it a bit harder to find an editor, in the long run it will help ensure that you find the right editor.

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