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4 Types of Editing You Need To Know

If you're writing or have written a book, sooner or later you're going to be thinking about editing. As an inevitable process, editing is a task that can seem monstrous. Having to comb through your draft and go through multiple rounds of revisions, beta readers, and editing can easily overwhelm even the most dedicated writer.

For the month of August, we here at Writing It Wells are working hard to bring you tips and advice to help walk you through this process and help ease any reservations you may have. From starting for the first time, to learning new tips to help you get through it, to resources and guides we have you covered! Check out the rest of our posts in this series here.

You can also connect with us on our Instagram page @writingitwells to stay connected, learn about our updates and new content, and see more creative works such as short stories and poetry.

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Today's post is the second in this writing series and is dedicated to the four different types of editing: Proofreading, Copy Editing, Line Editing, and Developmental Editing. We'll be going over these four types and explaining the in's and out's to help you know when to use them and how to once you get there.

1. Proofreading

The word "proofread" means to read a printed form of material and mark any errors. It originated from the word "proofs", which is what they would call the final copy typesetters produce before the final print run. Makes sense, right? You've finished the editing process and now you're ready for one last glance-over to make sure everything is where it needs to be.

In terms of publishing, this means that your book has been set into its final format, cover-and-all, regardless of whether it's been done by a publisher or independent author. This is the final stage of editing, which means that you cannot make any more structural changes or deletions. Doing so at this point will cost you time, money, and possibly delay your publishing date.

At this stage your manuscript has already been put through several rounds of editing. It's been determined that its good enough to be published and now the final sweep is happening to make sure that no formatting errors like extra space after or in between sentences has occurred, there's no awkward word splits at the end of sentences, and that no ugly widows (single lines leftover from a previous paragraph) are left at the tops of pages. It's basically a formatting check at this point.

Think of this as the last call in editing. Beyond this point your book is being sent for distribution and then its going out into the world.

If you're looking to proofread yourself or are curious to learn about the process before you hire a professional, check out McGraw-Hill's Proofreading Handbook. This is a step-by-step guide on how to proofread by veteran editor and proofreader Laura Anderson that ensures the quality of your work is top-notch before you publish.

2. Copy Editing

Copy editing is where you look at a manuscript and check it for consistency and accuracy. The word "copy" actually refers to the text itself, hence where the name comes from. Whether you're self-editing or having an editor go over your work, this is a word-by-word edit.

This form of editing addresses issues in grammar, spelling, usage, and consistency. Other errors corrected here include language and syntax. Punctuation is also double-checked, especially when it comes to commas, semicolons, and quotation marks.

Let's be clear: Anyone can copy edit. But, if you're going to hire a professional, what they'll do is write down their revision suggestions in a separate document as well as put in comments to let you know what they recommend changing. They'll comment and explain their suggestions which you can then go through and either change or refute.

You should only undergo copy editing when you manuscript is completely finished and up to your satisfaction standards. Before it gets to this stage, your plot, story structure, characterization, settings, etc. need to be completely finished.

Copy Editing can be notoriously dry and dull, but it doesn't have to be. If you're looking for a great guide that also has some spunk, try The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing and Corporate Communications by Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwartz. Their combined expertise and entertaining wit will help you edit while staying cheerful.

3. Line Editing

Think of this as polishing your work. Here you're paying attention to the flow of ideas, transitions, tone, style, themes, etc. You're fine tuning the aspects of language that impact how a story reads and the overall atmosphere it creates, fixing any inconsistencies and smoothing the overall fabric.

Line editors differ from copy editors in that the things they pay attention to are different. They suggest changes that will make your sentences sharper, eliminate redundancy, and straighten out verbosity issues. They also smooth awkward sentences, and fix the structure of paragraphs without doing a full re-write. This overview method ensures that the key aspects of the manuscript (narrative, vocabulary, structure, characterization, style, and development) all coincide.

This step typically occurs after copy editing. A great guide to help you get your manuscript in shape is Claire Kehrwald Cook's Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. It features tons of examples from writers at all skill levels and the corrections so you can learn how to say exactly what you mean.

4. Developmental Editing

This is a full top-to-bottom review of your manuscript. It includes everything that’s involved in proofreading and copy-editing, plus a detailed critique of the essentials within your story which include:

  1. Timeline

  2. Plot

  3. Story Structure

  4. Setting

  5. Characterization

  6. Pacing

  7. Presentation

  8. Marketability

This type of editing occurs throughout the drafting process. Typically you've written a couple versions of your draft before this happens, as you have to have things to critique, obviously. You should have a good feel for your story and a grasp on what the finished product might look like.

The great news is that developmental editing doesn't have to come from a professional editor. Feedback from beta readers, a writing instructor, or writing group can all serve the same function. That means you can realistically save a little money if you want to keep costs down or prefer personalized reviews.

Make sure that the people you ask to review are competent and knowledgeable, as the point of having this done is to improve your book, not to have them tell you how perfectly amazing your writing is. This rules out friends and family (unless they too are writers). You want these people to be honest, dedicated, and have a background in writing (and publishing if you can swing it).

Unlike copy editing, this critique is written in a separate document. Prepare for a lengthy one, as this can be a chapter-by-chapter process with notes about how to improve the marked areas. To help guide you through this process, check out the Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) by Scott Norton. With years of experience under his belt, his logical, collaborative, humorous, and realistic approach to developmental editing will keep you motivated while you improve your manuscript.

Typically this is what the order of this process looks like:

To summarize:

  1. Developmental editing is the first type to occur, you usually have to have written a few drafts first, and you do not have to have a professional handle the process.

  2. Copy editing is the second round. This should be done by a Copy Editor, and is something every book needs. It fixes the grammar/spelling errors in a manuscript.

  3. Line editing is the third round. It is done by a Line Editor. This ensures the elements of a story are consistent throughout and that the language used is polished overall. Also a necessity.

  4. Proofreading is the final necessary editing stage. It occurs right before publication to confirm that everything looks the way its supposed to before the book is sent for distribution.

Editing is very much a subjective matter. You as the writer determine how much editing your book requires and who gets the honor of helping. A professional editor can offer you their expertise of the industry and provide insights that a beta reader may not, but in the end you may find you don't want them messing with your format or stylistic preferences. Whatever you decide, remember: More editing never leads to a bad book.

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