Your hard work as a writer of a work of fiction deserves proper attention before you take it to the next level – publication. In this age of self-publishing, though, you might consider skipping the services of a professional editor because of cost or worry over the process. The good news is that there is an absolute ton of information online about fiction editing. Even better news is that there are various levels, some less expensive than others. And the even better news is that this article sums them up for you.
First, there is a lot of discrepancy between how many levels of editing there are and between the terms used for each. This article presents the key levels and terms. Individual editors out there may vary a little. You will want to clarify with them what they mean and what to expect from each level.
The order here is not cast in cement. Some of these are done simultaneously, depending on the editor.
See the list of articles at the bottom of this post with more information.
1. Editorial Assessment
Also called: Manuscript evaluation — Manuscript critique — Editorial report — Big-picture editing
- Optional starting point for an early version of your manuscript that might be a bit messy.
- Editor gives you broad and hopefully useful feedback on strengths and weaknesses in your plot, characters, or structure in a written report (2-3 pages usually).
- No rewrites, no corrections for grammar, spelling, etc.
- Just to give you a basic idea of the readability of your work and anything you might want to fix before sending to a beta reader or literary agent.
- Generally more affordable than a full developmental edit.
2: Beta Reading
Also called: Advance copy read
- For new writers wanting general feedback.
- A good beta reader (and someone who might charge you) will give you a 2-3 page report.
- If your budget’s really tight, as most are these days, consider a writing critique group.
Caution: There are people on social media who routinely offer their services as a beta reader. They might charge, or they might not. Check them out thoroughly, though, before sending off your masterpiece or you could find yourself trying to sue for them publishing under their name.
Also called: Developmental editing — Evaluation editing — Manuscript critique
- Some combine with Developmental edit.
- Begins when larger conceptual issues have been addressed and a draft is complete.
- Editor focused big picture issues like overall story structure, logical flow, style, tone, general quality of writing
- Editor will usually provide a short memo summarizing key points, areas of concern, and mark up manuscript at a high level, may shift paragraph or chapter order as well as make suggestions for new material or deletion of existing material.
If all goes well, you’re ready for copyediting and proofreading.
Otherwise, you might need a developmental editor for organization and structure issues or a line edit or content edit to address writing issues.
4. Developmental Editing
Also called: Content editing — Substantive editing — Conceptual editing — Manuscript appraisal
- Most valuable to new and inexperienced authors.
- Often the first step of editing a manuscript and the broadest level of editing.
- Editor includes an editorial report as well as in-text comments.
- Might be major changes – additions, deletions, items moved or completely rewritten – so this step should be done before any further editing.
- Focus on: Starting point, First scene, Plot structure, Point of view, Pacing, Setting, Character development, Tension and intrigue, Images and metaphors, Narrative techniques, Themes
- Goal is a more vibrant, engaging, and believable story.
- Sharper focus than copyediting, looking at sentences (does each deal with one idea?) and paragraphs (does each discuss one topic?).
- Editor checks for consistent and correct usage of terms and ideas; repetitive or redundant words, phrases, or sections; wordy phrases; excessive use of passive voice; shorter words that can be substituted for longer ones; page and word limit fit; and awkward phrases that disrupt the flow of your writing.
If all is well, your document will be ready for copyediting.
Also called: Developmental editing — Line editing — Content editing — Full editing
- Some lump with Developmental Editing, others with Copyediting.
- Takes place at the beginning of the publishing process.
- Not as detailed as a line edit. In-between high-level developmental/evaluation edit and ground-level a line editor takes.
- Editor will look at the big picture and address paragraph and sentence clarity, coherence, and flow, ensuring that your content is compelling and suitable for your intended audience, medium, and purpose.
- Editor will note directly in your file, using the change tracking and comments features, things for you to consider, recommend changes, delete sections, and/or suggest additions.
- Sometimes, editor rewrites sections. You could see substantial changes, including new content. Be very clear when requesting this service if you want such rewriting to be done.
- Editor will not rewrite stories but only change what is necessary while maintaining the author’s personal voice and style.
Also called: Line editing — Stylistic editing — Light Copyediting
- Happens midway through publishing.
- Making corrections to spelling and punctuation.
- Editor generally focuses more on grammar, word choice, enhancing overall writing quality (active vs. passive voice, overly long or awkward phrasing), basic factual correctness, and ensures that the tone and style of a piece are consistent and appropriate for the target audience.
- Experienced editors ensure your original tone remains intact and use a revision-tracking system so you can see changes and quickly accept or reject them with the click of a button. They may create a style sheet documenting hyphenation style, capitalization style, and other items. Keep it handy for the proofreader and feel free to add to it.
- Expect noticeable changes to your original document and review them carefully. Never feel obligated to accept those changes, though. It’s your book.
- A good copy editor collaborates with you and will put your vision first.
- Particularly crucial for nonfiction but helpful for works of historical fiction and hard sci-fi, too, or even fiction books that deal with a lot of current events.
- Can be part of copyediting, substantive editing, or developmental editing.
9. Line editing
Also called: Copyediting — Stylistic editing — Medium copyediting — Comprehensive editing
- For manuscripts and scripts that are in final draft.
- Editor goes through your writing “line by line,” focuses on the words you use to communicate with your reader, things like clarity, examining word choice and impact, making sure your writing is clear and eloquent, pointing out clichéd phrasing and jargon, suggesting fixes for run-on sentences.
Some editors will do both copyediting and line editing together if you specify it up front.
Also called: Light copyediting — Mechanical editing — Baseline editing
- Final, most technical edit to seek and correct remaining errors, often done just before book is published.
- Hire someone who did not do the copyedit, so he/she sees your text with fresh eyes.
- Traditional publishing: a proofreader edits after the book has been designed and formatted, and works on page proofs.
- Indie publishing: a proofreader often edits after the editor and work on a Word document. He/she serves as a second pair of eyes on the manuscript. The proofreader also does his/her job before the book is designed and formatted for publication to save the cost of inputting changes into the program used for generating the book (InDesign, etc.)
- Proofreader will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, verb-tense consistency, pronouns, spacing, editorial style, and formatting consistency.
- Don’t expect radical changes to your sentences or words.
- Furnish that style sheet mentioned earlier.
- Proofreader will return a marked-up document for your review.
- After you make changes, you should be ready to send your manuscript into production.
Again, I stress that this is a general guide. And I also stress the need for some level of editing for your work, even if it’s a check for typos, which are rampant in both traditional and indie publishing.
Personally as the author, I do a “deep read,” combining most of the above, of manuscripts that have sat and cooled awhile. The changes I saw needed in my first three manuscripts were significant – chapters realigned or combined, parts moved to other chapters, heavy copyediting, tons of line editing.
Communication between you and the editor is vital. Be sure you’re both speaking the same language! Go to the editor’s site to see how they divide the different editing levels and what they charge for each.
A few articles presented as a starting point:
Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!
Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.
Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.