You know you need an editor, but do you know what you need an editor to do?
If this is your first experience shopping for an independent editor, a bit of homework may be in order to help you shop smart. Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll be better equipped to choose the right editor and get the most value for your money. This brief explanation of the various levels of editing will get you started.
NOTE: The terms and finer points of types of editing may vary from editor to editor, so don’t be shy about asking questions when you interview editors. While the labels may vary, the following is a general description of the different levels of editing, from most extensive (and expensive) to the final finishing steps.
This level of editing may also be called a manuscript critique, manuscript analysis, or a manuscript evaluation.
Here, the editor is looking at the big picture in your manuscript — the entire structure of a novel, or the overall communication of a concept in a nonfiction book. In developmental editing, an editor may recommend that scenes be moved, chapters be reordered, content condensed, or even deleted. With a novel, the editor will analyze the premise, plot, structure, point of view, characters, character arc, and pacing.
In many cases, the editor will provide his or her recommendations by way of a written critique or report, and no changes will be made without your input and approval.
Developmental editing is the most expensive level of editing, and requires the most expertise. This level of edit typically does not include line or copy editing, which cover the mechanics, like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Those levels of editing are critical, but will often be an additional fee.
This level of editing may also be referred to as content editing, stylistic editing or heavy copy editing.
At this level, an editor looks for consistency, readability, and a good flow to the story. Does your protagonist still have the same name and hair color at the end of the book that he had at the beginning? Does any one part of the story contradict another? Is the progression of the story (or guide) logical?
Copy editing is also more of a big-picture edit, but will be focused on the craft elements, such as a strong opening, point of view, plot holes, dialogue, pacing, and showing vs. telling.
Some editors may offer different levels of copy editing (heavy, medium, light), and some editors may also include line editing and light copy editing/proofreading in a copy editing package. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify exactly what you’re getting in editing services.
In line edits, an editor will got through the manuscript line by line, checking for grammatical and spelling errors. The main purpose at this level is to make the manuscript more readable, so the editor may correct sentence structure or word choices, cut words to make the writing tighter, and correct awkward or vague phrasing.
Many editors will check for style at this stage as well: proper treatment of numbers, proper capitalization of names and geographical locations, whether there’s a hyphen in email or not. Some editors may handle this step in proofreading or light copy editing.
I’ll continue to repeat this: don’t be afraid to ask questions to be sure you and your editor are on the same page (pun intended).
This level of editing may also be referred to as light copy editing.
At this stage, the editor will simply be checking for spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and typographical errors. This level of editing may include style issues.
The proofreading step assumes all of the big issues — craft, technique, readability — have been addressed and corrected. Proofreading is often the last read-through before a book is ready to go to print.