With the rise of quality self-publishing, various types of editing are available for independent authors. But what are they and are any right for you?
Familiarizing yourself with the main types of editing can help you make an informed decision about where to invest your time and money. This’ll bring out the best in your story and get it ready for readers to enjoy.
Amila is a self-published fiction author. They were so excited to finish writing their first novel and couldn’t wait to publish it online. Amila decided to DIY the proofreading so there’d be money left over for professional cover design, which turned out gorgeous! The good news: Amila’s book started to sell a few copies. The bad news: the reviews complained about spelling and grammar, and one asked if an editor had even been hired. Ouch. Amila wished the reviewers could look beyond the missed errors and focus on the incredible story.
OK, I made Amila up, but their story is one I’ve seen several times. Reviews concerned with spelling and grammar are not very encouraging for a first-time author, but they can be avoided, allowing readers to focus on your story.
The general idea: level of focus
- Developmental editing (big-picture, story-level work)
- Line editing (stylistic line-by-line work like overwriting)
- Copyediting (spelling, punctuation, grammar, consistency)
- Proofreading (final quality control checks)
- Proof-editing (proofreading before page setting with light copyediting)
The general idea: level of focus
You can think of different types of editing as how zoomed in they are, from a bird’s-eye view of story-level issues to peering through a magnifying glass at a comma on the opposite side of speech marks. In the middle would be sentence-level issues like repeated phrases or overwriting.
With an unlimited budget, every book could be pampered with big-picture feedback, then sentence-level feedback, error-checking and extra quality control. But chances are, that doesn’t apply to many of us! Let’s look at each level of editing in more detail so you can make informed decisions to invest wisely.
Types of editing
Whether you aim to self-publish or grab the attention of a literary agent or publisher, professional editing can help your writing. Editors call different types of editing by various names depending on their background and training, so I’ve tried to include these alternative names.
Developmental editing (sometimes called structural or conceptual editing) focuses on big-picture, story-level issues like character and narrative arcs. Developmental editing is typically done during the earlier stages of a book’s creation, before any other type of editing. It would be a shame to have your book copyedited in detail and then decide to change whole scenes.
Developmental editors usually provide detailed comments on the strengths and opportunities of your story for things like character development, plot, setting, and pace, for example. They may make suggestions and give example rewrites for you to consider or provide a feedback report in the form of a manuscript critique.
Line editing (also called stylistic, substantive, or sentence-level editing) is concerned with overall sentence structure. In fiction, this involves how dialogue is laid out, repetition, redundancy, point of view slips, consistency errors, and overwriting, for example.
Being attentive to the writer’s style is especially essential in line editing. Line editors aren’t looking to fix every minute error but rather examine the words you use to communicate with your readers. For example, in some genres, readers will expect a concise, action-packed style; in others, something more descriptive.
Copyediting involves reviewing a piece of writing for spelling, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and consistency of style, like italics or hyphenation, for example. Professional copyeditors will provide you with a style sheet, or you can provide your own if you like.
A copyeditor ensures the author’s message is clear, corrects any accidental errors, and suggests ways to improve the text. It can be invaluable to have a fresh pair of eyes look over your work for blips you are too close to see. Clarity is key: copyeditors help ensure readers receive the message you intended.
Proofreading is reviewing the final version of a written text to catch any remaining typos, punctuation, grammar mistakes or formatting problems caused by page setting.
The overlap between copyediting and proofreading means that many people use the terms interchangeably. Traditionally, they describe very different processes that benefit your book in unique ways.
In traditional publishing, a book is copyedited and proofread by different people to maximize the number of errors caught.
As so much copyediting and proofreading is now done onscreen, there is the opportunity for flexibility. In traditional publishing, proofreading happens after page setting. Many writers now request proofreading before page setting. This means that some proofreading-only checks are not required (widows, orphans, or stacked hyphens, anyone?) but some light copyediting can be included without throwing all the formatted pages off.
You can think of proof-editing as a pre-page setting proofread with light copyedit. Many editors call this proofreading to avoid confusion.
What is self-editing?
Self-editing is any rewriting and improving that you do after your first draft. Self-editing comes before hiring a professional editor and the processes are complementary. Chances are you don’t want to publish your first draft as is – I know I don’t!
It can sometimes feel challenging to edit your work, but there are many helpful online resources. Check out my post on self-editing if you like.
Getting your writing in the best shape you can before hiring an editor will enable them to focus on the next layer of improvements instead of you paying them to fix things you could have done yourself. If you are short on time rather than budget though, this might be exactly what you want.
How to save money on editing
I would recommend doing as much self-editing as you can before hiring a professional editor. As part of that, you could get big-picture feedback from beta readers. It can be an affordable way to see how readers respond to your story but bear in mind that comments will vary in how helpful they are. Receiving feedback often (always?!) stings initially, so give yourself time to process it and choose which ideas you want to take on board to improve your story.
A benefit of a professional editor is that they are more likely to be sensitive, encouraging, and diplomatic in the way they give feedback and their suggestions less subjective. Many editors offer developmental feedback or a manuscript critique, which can be an affordable way to get professional input without a full-blown “done for you” structural edit. You can then act on the suggestions you choose and complete the developmental graft yourself. You could then see what your beta readers think after that.
If you are happy with the big-picture elements of your story but are not sure how to improve your writing style, you could try a mini line edit. For example, you can get professional stylistic feedback on say 10,000 words of your novel (you guessed it, I offer this service) and use the recommendations from your editor as you self-edit the rest of your manuscript.
Now you’re familiar with the different types of editing on offer from professional editors, you can more confidently communicate your wishes as a writer. Discuss your ideas with your editor to ensure your work receives the attention it deserves.
Remember, you don’t have to accept every suggestion an editor makes; it’s your work and you’ll know best which ideas are right for you.
Well-written books have been well-edited, ensuring your hard work results in readers enjoying your story without being distracted by puzzling plot holes, lacklustre characters, ambiguous grammar, or pesky typos.
Do you love or loathe self-editing?
How have your experiences with beta readers gone?
Which type of professional editing sounds the most helpful?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences; let me know in the comments below!
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2 thoughts on “Which type of editing would benefit your book the most? ”
This is spot on Joanne – I’ve come across several sites trying to explain the different levels and purpose of editing but this is by far the clearest.
Thanks, that’s so kind of you! It’s great that writers have so many editing options available to them, but sometimes all the choice can be daunting at first.