Different Kinds of Editing

Reposted from FireweedEditorial.com. Written by Kris Farmen.

I recently spoke on the phone with an editing client who was brand new to the process of writing and editing. I had read through part of her novel manuscript and found it to be a lively and engaging story, and I was looking forward to working with her. But because she’d never been through the book editing process, she was weighed down by elemental questions like, “What is developmental editing?” and “Why is copy editing necessary?” All the different kinds of editing services can be confusing. I explained to her the differences between developmental editing, copy editing, line editing, and proofreading, as well as the importance of each one. Then it occurred to me: she probably wasn’t the only one with these sorts of questions.  

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing goes by several names, including substantive editing, story editing, and structural editing (and probably a host of others). Whatever you choose to call it, developmental editing is the process of going through a manuscript to improve the flow of the story, to tighten up each scene, make sure there are no major Chekhov’s Gun issues, and to identify any places where the narrative drags or bogs down. In other words, the aim is to make the story itself as good as it can be.

Line Editing
Line editing focuses mainly on sentence and paragraph structure. A line editor helps you smooth out your language so that it flows like river water over a stone and keeps the reader engaged with the story. A good line edit will make sure that you’re saying what you want to say in the best possible way. Usually the feedback you get from the editor will come in the form of a redline document, that is, a version of your story with the editorial changes marked using Word’s Track Changes function.

Copy Editing
Copy editing, often confused with proofreading, is by contrast a much more technical edit on your manuscript. Its purpose is to catch any misspelled words (including affect/effect style misusage), rogue apostrophes, and any glaring grammatical errors. Copy editing is usually the last step in manuscript revision. With the manuscript done, you move on to proofreading.

Traditionally proofreading is done on galley proofs—the mock-up of what the final book will look like. The type is set, the margins are blocked in, drop caps are inserted. In short, it’s almost done. But any smart author or publisher will have one final read-through done on the typeset pages to catch any last-minute errors. Proofreading is just that: it’s the final editorial scan of the pages of a galley proof to like the extra period on page 112 or the en dash on page 209 that should be an em dash.

Every book manuscript needs multiple stages of editing before it goes to press, and the importance of a good editor cannot be overstated. Jack London, one of the most famous novelists ever, always refused to make any revisions on his first drafts, and it shows. Every time I read one of his novels the foremost thought in my mind is, This book could have been fifteen thousand words shorter and 20% better with an editor. 

Fireweed Editorial offers all the editing services described above, plus design and layout work. We also offer free trial edits so that you can feel confident that we are a good fit for you. But whoever you choose to help you, editing is absolutely vital to producing a great book.