by Victoria Passey
1. Understand the different types of editing.
There are several types of editing: content/developmental editing, substantive/deep-line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, as well as edits for style guides and fact-checking. Together, they create a funnel of sorts, progressively narrowing down to your finished, publication-ready manuscript.
Since there are many different terms for the different phases of editing, we’ll simplify them into four major categories so you can determine the type of editor you need for each phase of your project.
- Content editing takes a big-picture look at your manuscript. This stage reviews your manuscript’s major strengths and weaknesses regarding plot issues, organization, pacing, structure, etc.
- Substantive or deep-line editing looks at your writing. The primary goal at this stage is to address the artistry, clarity, word economy, voice, and emotional impact of each sentence and paragraph (which can include any last little issues with the developmental points above, like pacing, dialogue, and rhetoric).
- Copyediting is that final, fresh set of eyes where the editor catches any last issues that might trip up readers. This stage includes all the fine details, from clarity, to grammar and mechanics, to consistency issues and typos. Generally, it’s also concerned with style-guide issues, like bringing things in line with The Chicago Manual of Style.
- Proofreading is a second quality control round and, depending on whether you are traditionally or self-publishing, will happen before or after a book is in the galley stage—when the interior layout is completed and it looks like a “real” book. You may also want a separate or related galley proofread, which addresses the aesthetics and consistency of your book’s typography.
2. Understand your budget and goals.
Your budget, goals, and publishing path will drive what kinds of editing will serve you best and how many rounds of editing your manuscript will go through. Sending your manuscript through each of the phases is the ideal for traditional-pub quality, but if you can’t afford it, at a minimum, you’ll want a developmental edit, followed by a solid copyedit. An experienced developmental editor can discuss the industry, market, and which editing phases would make sense for your genre and individual work.
3. Search within your community.
Though it may be tempting to rely on online searches to find an editor, word of mouth is your best bet. Ask your writer friends (writing groups or other communities you’re a part of) for recommendations for editors.
Your editor should be vetted by the writing community. Look for strong reviews and community recognition/involvement.
4. Know the qualities of a good editor and of good feedback.
Your developmental editor should have a solid understanding of writing craft, particularly story structure, pacing, and character arcs.
Your line or copyeditor should be very familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, as these are the standard guides for style and usage within the publishing industry. It’s also important that your copyeditor respects your authorial voice and has an impeccable understanding of modern grammar and usage.
The ideal editor will provide firm, honest, kindly-phrased feedback—not just empty praise.
As an author, you want feedback that helps you improve your manuscript by giving you a candid look at its strengths and weaknesses. Empty praise may inflate your ego, but it won’t help you grow and improve as a writer.
5. Understand a developmental editor’s genre specialty.
It’s important that your developmental editor understands your chosen genre, especially as you progress in your writing career.
Any good content editor can edit and give feedback on general story structure and craft, which can be beneficial for writers who are just starting out, but as you progress in your writing career, an editor who understands your genre is increasingly important.
An editor who understands your genre also understands the tropes, audience expectations, and what’s already been done (what you’ll look cliché for doing) within that genre.
For example, if you want to become a well-known romance author, an editor who isn’t an expert in romance plot structure and doesn’t know the difference between romance subgenres isn’t the right fit for you.
6. Get a sample edit before moving forward.
Before you decide on an editor, ask for a sample edit of a short selection from your manuscript. A sample edit will help you understand the editor’s skill level, as well as how they’ll approach your work and your feelings as an author. Make sure to compare the different sample edits you get from all the editors you are considering. Price is not a good comparison point—if you don’t get a quality edit, you’ve wasted your money, regardless.
By the way, most editors use Track Changes in Word to record their line edits and comments. Understanding this feature will ensure that you can view your editor’s notes and accept or reject their changes.
7. Discuss details.
Once you’ve decided on an editor, be sure to discuss the details of your project. Laying out the details (in a written contract) early on will save both of you many headaches later.
Some of the details you’ll want to discuss are deadlines, costs, payment arrangements, and a work-for-hire contract where your work is protected and the editor is under an NDA (nondisclosure agreement).
You should be able to discuss these details over the phone—either with someone in the company you’ve hired, or the editor themselves if they are an individual freelancer. And make sure you get it in writing!
Getting a manuscript ready for publication is a collaborative effort based on a mutual love of books, respect, and creative effort. If you and your editor respect each other’s time, effort, expertise, and vision, the resulting product—and partnership—will amaze you!
Do This Now
Would you like to try one of our sample edits? Let’s get going on that today.
Victoria Passey is an assistant project manager and intern with Eschler Editing. She is studying English at Brigham Young University-Idaho and has been working as an editor since 2016. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband and their three cats.