Are you thinking of getting your manuscript edited? After working hard on your fiction or non-fiction book, you know you have to take the next step. It must be intimidating to let your work out into the world after so much time that you have spent with it honing it and giving it the shape that you envisioned for it, but it must be done. Or how else will the world know your unique thoughts and ideas? And much before the world gets to see your book, you need to make sure it is error-free and reads well. So, you need to put it through the daunting but necessary process of editing. But before you decide what kind of editing your work needs, you need to understand the various types of editing. Do you know that there are several types of editing? Read on to decide which ones you need and where to start. If this is your first book, it becomes even more important to know the nitty-gritty of it. Here is the complete guide for you.
But wait, before we plunge into the topic in detail, you might as well ask—why does your book need editing? Even if you think you know the answer, please don’t skip the next section.
This might seem like a basic question but just to be sure there is no doubt, let’s see why editing is important. It’s a short detour and we’ll get on the road to types of editing in a few sentences. Let me explain.
Publishing is a business. Your book is a work of art for sure, but when it goes out to the market it is also a product. To make sure that your offering meets the reader’s expectations whether that is content, readability, presentation or style, you need to get your manuscript edited. In any genre. Even if you are a poet, you’ll still need to get your collection of poems edited.
It’s painfully obvious to readers if your book has been edited well or not. Robert Gottlieb, who edited the works of Joseph Heller, John Le Carré, John Cheever and Toni Morrison said that editing ‘is simply the application of the common sense of any good reader.’ Choppy narration, bad or missed punctuation, lack of a bibliography or any other problems are all stumbling blocks for a reader and a smooth read. Editing addresses all these and gives the work a certain completeness while strengthening it from within.
You can say that a book is shaped by two forces—writing and editing. Writing is the chaotic creative force while editing is the ordering systematic one.
Developmental editing is looking at the heart of the book and making sure that the internal logic of the book works. This means the developmental editor provides detailed feedback on ‘big picture’ issues. The edit focuses on plugging plot holes and removing character inconsistencies. The developmental editor will look at all the elements that make up your book and then tell you what works and what doesn’t. Based on this feedback, you, the writer, have to work on it again. And probably again.
Developmental editing lays bare all the faults of a manuscript. So it can be a very scary process to go through. That’s why there has to be absolute trust and respect between the writer and the developmental editor who is usually involved in the book from the time a book is conceived to when it goes for printing and reprinting.
So a developmental edit can change the book completely—for the better. Rewriting is kind of the point of a development edit. Remember that developmental editors will not rewrite the book for you. They will give you pointers both general and specific. It is up to you to accept and implement the edits or reject and avoid them. If there are points you don’t agree with, you are free to disagree and discuss with your developmental editor.
As a result of the developmental editing round, you will get two documents—an editorial report and an annotated manuscript. An editorial report is a summary of all the high-level content related concerns and the annotated manuscript contains detailed comments and specific suggestions on the issues and how to fix them.
It helps to have a good relationship and rapport with the developmental editor. Once you have found your dream editor, usually authors stick with them for life. Famous author-editor relationships become the stuff of publishing legend. The writer (and difficult author) Thomas Wolfe and the editor Maxwell Perkins are one such pair. Another pair that comes to mind is the poet T.S. Elliot and the editor Ezra Pound.
Manuscript assessment sometimes is also called:
This is an evaluation of an experienced editor who goes through your work focussing on the overall structure, content and style of the manuscript. At this point in time, they will comment on plot, narrative, character, point of view, pace, writing style, dialogue, presentation, length of the book, use of research, target readership, marketing or publishing chances.
A professional manuscript assessment is a highly valuable service for writers that helps them get their manuscript in the best shape. It tells them how their manuscript will fare in the marketplace and since it comes from someone who is not related to you, it is fair and objective.
It’s best to ask for a manuscript assessment when your manuscript is in the later stages—but isn’t quite finished—after you have received from your peers such as a writing group. There is not much of a point getting a manuscript assessment while your manuscript is still being developed. Your book might change so much that the feedback from the assessment will be redundant.
If the manuscript assessment gives you a favourable review, you might only need proofreading to close the editing process. But if your book requires more work, the manuscript assessment will tell you what to do next.
Sometimes line editing is used to mean copyediting but they are two different processes. Line editing is a type of editing that falls between developmental editing and copyediting in terms of intensity. You can call line editing as the final polishing edit.
A line editor will go through all the lines of a book and focus on the style of the book rather than the mechanics. It’s a bit more precise than copyediting. At this stage, the line editor will look at word choice, point of view, tense and descriptive inconsistencies and give feedback on how to strengthen your lines. Line editing is solely focuses on the creative content of your book.
After all the ‘big picture’ issues have been taken care off, now you’ll need to work on the mechanical issues like spelling, grammar, capitalisation etc. That’s where copyediting comes into the picture. Sometimes this is also called mechanical editing and sometimes called line editing as well depending on how it is considered by the publishing house or publishing service providers. Some people see copyediting as a lighter editing process where only grammar is looked at while line editing as the more intense look at the meaning of each line.
The copyeditor will look at your manuscript and address the following concerns:
It might seem like you don’t need copyediting but you do. No matter how meticulous you are and how many rounds of content-related editing your manuscript has gone through, copyediting is an important stage which ensures that your work has that professional polish.
Some copyeditors also take a look at the citation style that is most appropriate for your book at this stage itself. This could be either of the following depending on the subject of your book:
If your book is a work of fiction, poetry or a textbook, usually there is no need to apply any citation style.
Before sending your manuscript for copyediting, have a little chat with your editor on what kind of copyedit they will be working on so that both your expectations don’t clash. You shouldn’t expect a heavy copyedit and get a lightly edited manuscript back or vice a versa.
Finally, there is proofreading. Some people see this as an editor’s job and some people think this is a separate role completely—that of a proofreader.
Proofreading is the final round of review before the book goes to print. To do this, the proofreader will take a printout of the book, which is called a proof at this stage.
This is the last stage to catch any missing commas, misplaced apostrophes and typos before the book is printed and it becomes too late to catch any errors. This is also the time when the proofreader looks at the layout and catches any of the following:
What should not covered at this stage is any content related concerns—plot changes, character revisions, or anything larger than pesky mechanical problems. The focus of proofreading is catch all those problems that have been missed in the earlier rounds of editing.
Book shepherding is not a stage or type of editing but an end-to-end service in either a publishing house or by a publishing service provider. Especially with the rise of self-publishing, book shepherds are in demand since they guide your book through all the stages of the publishing process. They might not hold the designation of editor as it is traditionally known but many experienced editors have acted as book shepherds apart from taking on the roles of developmental editor, line editor and copyeditor. It all depends on what you are looking for.
Book shepherds are involved in all the stages of self-publishing from developmental editing to applying for an ISBN number to working with the book designer for your book cover to choosing the right paper for your budget.
Now that you know the various forms of editing and the roles that each type of editor could potentially play if they were working on your book, you are all set to decide which one or many you would need. If you choose the traditional publishing route for your book, most of these roles can be fulfilled by the publishing house itself. If you choose self-publishing as your route, then you have the option of choosing the services you need the most. In either case, you can now make an informed decision.