You’ve finished your manuscript. You’ve drafted, revised, self-edited, and reviewed it again.
If you’re looking to publish, the work doesn’t stop there—especially if you’re planning to go the self-publishing route.
After all of your hard work, it’s time for professional editing! Editors aren’t just there to mark up your manuscript with a digital red pen. We’re an objective party, a fresh set of eyes to help you add that extra polish to your manuscript. Every author needs an editor, and trust me when I say even editors need editors.
But where do you start? How do you know what type of editing you need?
Multiple Types of Editing
As you may have found out by now, either through research or word of mouth, there are different stages and types of editing. Definitions vary from editor to editor, but I like to separate these into three main categories:
- Story-level editing
- Language-level editing
Story-level editing covers things like structure, plot arcs, character development, worldbuilding, etc. Story-level edits are about those “big” story elements.
Language-level editing covers things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but it also covers readability, style, and flow.
Proofreading is the final step in the editing process. This is where you (and your proofreader) check for typos, clarity, and basic grammar. I separate proofreading out from language-level editing because even though it looks at language, it really is its own step in the editing process.
Manuscripts typically require several levels and rounds of editing. A professional editor is most capable of determining which type(s) you need.
Here at Between the Lines, I divide story-level edits into two different services:
- Developmental editing (sometimes called ‘structural editing’)
- Manuscript critiques
Many other freelance editors also divide their services up like this, though you might see critiques called “evaluations” or a similar term.
Developmental editing is a deep dive into your story’s plot, characters, pacing, worldbuilding and setting, themes, and overall manuscript development. This type of editing usually includes comments and suggestions in your manuscript file as well as some kind of editorial write-up.
Manuscript critiques also look at those elements mentioned above, but they take a high-level view of your story. If the developmental edit is “down in the weeds,” then a critique is the “40,000-foot view.” Critiques usually include fewer comments and suggestions in your manuscript file, instead focusing the high-level feedback into the editorial write-up only.
Choosing your Story-Level Editing
While it’s good to speak with the particular editor you want to work with, it’s also helpful to know what you might want or need going into the editorial hunt.
Developmental edits are great if you want more hands-on feedback from your editor. They’re also an investment in your growth as a writer, and you’ll likely learn a lot when you hire someone for a developmental edit. That said, they’re also more expensive and time consuming.
Manuscript critiques are great if you’ve already had several critique partners or beta readers give you feedback on the story. They’re also helpful if you feel stuck after a first or second draft and can help you clear up some of the issues you’re running into. Critiques are usually less expensive and have faster turnaround times.
As mentioned above, it’s best to talk to the editor you want to work with. They can speak with you more specifically about your goals and skill level, then suggest which type of story-level edit would be the best fit for you.
Language-level edits are often broken down into two different services:
- Line editing (sometimes called ‘substantive editing’ or ‘heavy copyediting’)
If you search this online, you’ll see different definitions and terms from different professional editing organizations. It can be confusing, and it was something we discussed frequently in class during my grad school days.
Based on my years of experience and education, I’ve come to think of it this way: copyediting looks at language, and line editing is a specific intensity and type of copyediting.
Copyediting, generally speaking, reviews mechanics like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. The goal is to smooth and correct errors and improve readability.
Line editing takes a deeper look. It’s more subjective as it delves into style and flow. Line editing examines the tone of different sections, the flow of one sentence to the next, sentence structure, etc.
Language-level edits should never be about changing your author voice. Instead, they should focus on elevating your writing, challenging you to grow in your style, and making the reading experience smooth for your audience.
These are sometimes two separate services done by freelance editors. Some editors do a bit of both during a language-level edit, and others will edit as “heavily” as needed for the particular manuscript. Talk to your editor to find out their process!
Proofreading is the final step in the editing process and includes checking for any final errors and inconsistencies that may have slipped through during previous edits. This includes reading for typos, checking clarity, and reviewing basic grammar. Proofreading is a light edit and is meant to be a final clean up before publication.
Proofreading is always helpful and necessary, and good proofreaders are a great addition to your publishing team. A thorough proofread will help you catch as many final errors as possible before you go to publish.
The Editing Process
Once you find an editor(s) you want to work with, you can expect the editing process to go something like this:
- Story-level edits completed by your editor
- Story-level revisions completed by you once you receive the manuscript
- Language-level editing completed by your editor
- Language-level revisions completed by you once you receive the manuscript
- Proofreading completed by your proofreader
Starting with the big structural stuff—those story-level edits—is about efficiency.
It might seem less efficient to separate each step like that, but it’s actually the best way to tackle editing a manuscript. When doing story-level edits, you’re going to be making substantial changes even if you’re not rewriting the whole story.
By the time you rewrite chapters and make changes, you’ve introduced new language that needs to be copyedited.
That’s not to say you can’t fix typos and change words and sentences as you come across things when story-level editing. I definitely edit out typos when I’m doing story-level editing. But a full copyedit shouldn’t be done until the story is pretty much set in stone.
Separating these steps will save you time and money in the long run.
Even though this post is about professional editors, you’ll find that using a similar structure to the one I just listed above can be a great way to structure your self-editing process.
When I’m self-editing my own manuscripts, I start by focusing on the story. Questions I ask myself include:
- What plot holes do I find?
- What questions do I have, even as the author? Do I need to address them on the page at this point in the story?
- Do my characters feel consistent, and are the reasons for inconsistencies in their actions understandable?
- Where am I telling rather than showing?
- Are any scenes or chapters boring me, the author? If so, that’s a red flag.
- Are any scenes or chapters confusing to me, the author? If so, that’s also a red flag!
- Are there any paragraphs or sentences I want to rewrite now to strengthen the narrative or my own style?
When I’m happy with the revisions I’ve made to the story, I usually get feedback from my critique partner on the changes. If they still have more questions or suggestions, I look at those before moving on to language edits.
When I’m editing language specifically, I look for typos, punctuation errors, misspellings, and confusing wording. If a sentence confuses you or pulls you out of the story as an author, that’s a red flag. This is also the stage where I cut filler words, check the flow, embellish descriptions, and rewrite long sentences. The goal is to polish my language as much as I can.
Self-editing can be organized; I find it helpful to keep it segmented like I’ve described above. If you’ve ever found self-edits to be overwhelming, try focusing on each level of editing by itself. And as you complete each round of editing, give yourself a break of at least one week before moving on to the next phase.
Finding Your Editor
I’ve written about this before, but you need to find the right editor for your project. You should look for someone who:
- Understands your vision
- Knows your genre
- Fits your budget
You can find editors in all sorts of places:
- The Editorial Freelancer’s Association (US-based professional organization)
- Editors Canada (Canadian-based professional organization)
- Other country-based professional organizations
- Social media
- Recommendations from other authors
- Web searches
Wherever you look for an editor, be thorough in your research. Look at their credentials and testimonials. Talk with them over a video call or email if you can. Then, if you think they are someone you might want to work with, speak to this editor about your vision, where you’re at with your self-edits, your budget, and your questions. They’ll be able to answer your questions and guide you through the process.
Good luck and happy writing!
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