by Beth Justino
Choosing an editor is a big step. This is the person you will trust with your words, your ideas, and your vision. How can you choose wisely?
The first step is to understand what kind of editorial service you’re looking for. Editors work with manuscripts in different ways. Some take the “10,000 foot” view, considering your book’s overall structure and theme, while others are basically holding a magnifying glass right up to the details of spelling and punctuation.
Which is right for you? Do you want someone to tear your work to shreds? To suggest alternate endings, or to point out entire chapters that aren’t necessary? Or do you want someone to check the spelling?
While not everyone uses the terms noted below, these are standard descriptions for different editing services.
Also often called a “substantive edit” or “manuscript evaluation.” This service invites an editor to critique your overall manuscript. Feedback often comes in a memo, or in annotated comments throughout the work, that provides general guidelines and feedback for you to tackle revisions. The editor doesn’t actually change anything in the document itself.
For nonfiction manuscripts, the feedback will focus on the impact of your content: its clarity and conviction, the flow of ideas, and the effectiveness of the writing style.
This is typically the most intense (and some say, invasive) editing, and the place where you really need to trust your editor. Line editors bring out the best in your author’s voice and make your writing shine. That means that sometimes a line editor will make actual content changes to a work.
Line editing represents the highest level of the editor’s craft. Line editors consider what can be trimmed, condensed, or cut in order to improve pace, avoid repetition, and make the experience of a book as engaging as possible. A line edit might include:
- Eliminating wordiness, triteness, and inappropriate jargon.
- Giving dialogue more “snap” and bite.
- Smoothing transitions and moving sentences to improve readability.
- Extending examples, adding subheadings.
- Suggesting—and sometimes implementing—more comprehensive additions and deletions, noting them at the sentence and paragraph level.
Copy editing is, I think, what most people envision when they think about editing. The book remains largely in the order and at the pace that it was, and editorial changes happen at the sentence level.
Copy editing may include:
- Editing for clarity, format, syntax, obvious factual errors, and continuity.
- Correcting faulty spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
- Correcting incorrect usage (such as who for that).
- Checking specific cross-references (page numbers, references, etc.)
- Flagging inappropriate or over-used figures of speech.
- Changing passive verbs to active.
- Flagging ambiguous or incorrect statements.
This is usually the final step in editing, when a detail-oriented, meticulous editor goes word-by-word to correct grammar, spelling, usage, and typographical errors. Proofreaders make sure that spelling (is it grey or gray?), hyphens, numerals, and capitalization are always consistent.
Proofreading fixes what our computer spelling and grammar checkers miss.
Which of these services fits what you need right now?
Beth Jusino is an editor, teacher, and the Director of Book and Author Marketing for The Editorial Department, one of the oldest and most respected author services firms in the United States. There, she evaluates everything from self-help nonfiction to mystery novels, women’s fiction to memoir. She lives in Seattle, where she is a member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, and teaches a “Guide to Getting Published” seminar each quarter at the University of Washington’s Experimental College in Seattle. She has published white papers on Writing a Nonfiction Book Proposal and Market While You Write: Developing Your Author Brand While You’re Still Working on Your Book (both available from The Editorial Department for now, and Amazon soon). Find out more at www.editorialdepartment.com.