Perfection in writing is a work in progress.
Editing is the process of revising your first draft and making it crisp, concise and easy to read. Whether you’re writing a book or an article for an academic journal, it is always best to revise and make it as error-free as possible before sending it off to the publisher.
When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.~ Stephen King Click To Tweet
Professional editors offer different kinds of editing services where each service tackles a different aspect of improving the work. The editing services or stages are mainly categorized as developmental or structural edit, line edit, copy edit and proofreading; practiced in that order. Most commonly availed are line editing and copyediting. The terms are confusing for many authors as the terms are used interchangeably by some editors.
Critical Manuscript Evaluation (CME):
Critical manuscript evaluation or critique is where an editor reads your manuscript and submits a detailed critique of the various aspects of the book. This critique can vary in depth of detail but is majorly done as a test reading where the editor points out areas of improvement and the overall feel of your story. Once this is done the author can go ahead and make the necessary changes. Some editors may treat CME as the initial process after which developmental edit can start. Some, like me, make CME the developmental editing step.
The best advice on writing was given to me by my first editor, Michael Korda, of Simon and Schuster while writing my first book. ‘Finish your first draft and then we’ll talk,’ he said. It took me a long time to realize how good the advice was. Even if you write it wrong, write and finish your first draft. Only then, when you have a flawed whole, do you know what you have to fix.
~ Dominick Dunne
Developmental editing is the first and often a very important step when it comes to editing. It focuses on the big picture of your story—the structure of your manuscript. In order to tell your story or communicate your thoughts, you need a coherent structure, an emotional appeal to engage your audience and a sense of narrative.
A developmental editor aims at creating consistency in:
- Plot: whether your basic story follows a coherent and clear flow.
- Pacing: the rhythm at which events follow throughout the story.
- Characters: are they strong, engaging, hence memorable?
- Setting: the period and geography which forms a backdrop and sets the mood for the narrative.
- Perspective: whether it is consistent and clear as to whose perspective is being narrated—the author’s or the character’s.
- Inconsistencies: holes in the plot which jump from the first event to the third or fourth one
- Timing: of the events in the novel match up.
- Treatment: enhancing or diluting the humour, for instance, or introducing mystery, action or horror as a style component to improve the story
Developmental editing is most suitable for new writers or for writers working on a complex manuscript. A good developmental editor helps refine your plot structure. They would tighten and polish the story until it reads perfectly and is engaging. This allows the author to focus on the details of the story. After all, you cannot enjoy a beautiful house if the blueprints and foundations are haphazard and illogical!
Developmental editing may entail major changes in your manuscript; you may need to add or subtract chapters, move them around or alter the sequence of events. Hence, processes like line editing, copyediting and proofreading always follow after.
A developmental editor not only builds upon what the author has already thought of but would often also suggest what more can be added to make the story better. A developmental editor is not limited by what is, they are driven by what can be.
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.
~ Arthur Plotnik
Line editing involves checking each sentence and paragraph to ensure lucidity and fluency. The aim is to make your manuscript an enjoyable read by keeping your writing clear, fluid and in sync with your writing style. Through line editing, the editor makes sure that the right atmosphere is created in a reader’s mind, and correct word choice conveys the right meaning.
An editor may help you note and revise:
- Redundancies: Overused words or unnecessary sentences presenting the same information in different ways
- Run-on sentences
- Overuse of the passive voice
- Dialogue or paragraphs that need to be tightened up and made crisp
- Passages where the action or meaning is confusing because of irregular transitions or use of weak words and phrases that cause poor passage structure
- Confusing narrative digressions
The first draft is black and white. Editing gives the story color.
~ Emma Hill
While line edit focuses on the essence of the emotion evoked with each sentence and paragraph, copyediting is technical. Copyediting involves checking your manuscript for errors in grammar, punctuation, syntax, and spelling. To avoid spending time and money on correcting text that might be revised altogether, copyedit is always done after line edit.
A general editor involved with line editing may or may not offer copyediting services. Copyediting is the penultimate step before publishing, just before proofreading. In a way, copyediting can be considered to be the last step at the author’s end since proofreading happens at the publisher’s end.
A copyeditor may help you with the following:
- Consistency in spelling, hyphenation, numerals, fonts, and capitalization: For example is it Sita on page 28 and Seeta on page 140? Or do you use both British and American English spelling variations interchangeably, such as colour vs. color?
- Mark vague or factually incorrect statements in non-fiction manuscripts like historical pieces and memoirs.
- Take care of internal consistency: Your plot, setting, and character traits need to be consistent. For example, if you have introduced a character as a brunette with hazel brown eyes in the first chapter, later on, you cannot describe her as a blonde or a brunette with black eyes.
Only the blank page needs no editing.
~ Marty Rubin
Example of line and copyediting:
It’s been exactly 3 yrs today he left me. Or should I say love left us.what have I not tried in these 3 years to forget him and yet those 12 mths sent wth him stand out as strong as ever and dont leave me to live peacefully ? Over and over I remember him and then I cry a lot.so much things I want to tell him, but won’t. Not because he won’t listen, but because it does not make any sense to talking someone who does not even care. I remember what all he said before going.‘Just leave me alone now. I dont want to keep in touch.in 1 yr I have lost myself.i don want you.”
After Line Editing:
It’s been 3 yrs today since he left me. Or should I say love left us. In this duration, I have tried everything to make myself forget him. The memories of the 12 mnths I spent wth him haunt me. My tears haven’t stopped and my heart is still bereft of peace. There were things I wanted to tell him, but I won’t. There is no point saying anything to someone who no longer cares. I remember what he said before going. ‘Just leave me alone now. I don’t want to keep in touch.in 1 yr I have lost myself.i no longer want you in my life.”
After Copy Editing:
It has been three years today since he left me. Or should I say love left us? In this duration, I have tried everything to make myself forget him. The memories of the year I spent with him, haunt me. My tears haven’t stopped and my heart is still bereft of peace. There were things I wanted to tell him, but I won’t. There is no point saying anything to someone who no longer cares!
I remember what he said before going, “Just leave me alone now. I don’t want to keep in touch with you. In the past year, I seem to have lost myself. I no longer want you in my life!”
Proofreading happens after the final copy of the edited manuscript has been typeset. Hence, it is a very different process from all editing work.
A professional proofreader is required to check for quality before the book goes into mass publication. He or she compares this final copy or proof with the original edited copy which includes all the formatting, page numbers, headers, etc. to make sure that there are no errors are introduced during formatting or printing, like omissions, missing pages or awkward page breaks.
A proofreader may do a few light edits to spellings but if there are too many errors the proof is returned for copyediting.
No author dislikes being edited as much as he dislikes not being published.
~ J. Russell Lynes
Why Do You Need an Editor?
You could try self-editing or ask a friend to take a look at your work. Many authors prefer peer feedback especially if they are self-publishing. But the value of a professional editor should never be underestimated. Spotting your own errors is very difficult. Once you have gone through your work two or three times, your mind begins to play tricks on you and automatically corrects errors. You also miss instances where the thought in your mind fails to reflect in your writing.
A good editor doesn’t rewrite words, she rewires synapses.
~ S. Kelley Harrell
A good editor is fluent in the rules of writing and gives you the best objective view your manuscript needs that makes it shine. However, self-editing should not be completely abandoned. After all, for every mistake you correct, you save the editor’s time and ultimately save money.
I’m all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
~ Truman Capote
How Should You Hire an Editor?
The first step is to decide which kind of editing your manuscript needs.
Of the four stages (excluding proof-reading), you can choose if you want to pay for specific edits only or if you feel the whole package deal would be best for your manuscript.
The best idea is to send the manuscript for Critical Manuscript Evaluation. Once you’ve had an expert assess your manuscript, you can tweak and rework your manuscript. After that, you can go for the editing you want.
Many authors feel that after a thorough developmental edit, which is also the most expensive of all, there is little or no requirement for a line or copyedit. While choosing just one or the other may save cost, your manuscript may be riddled with grammatical errors or inconsistencies in character or settings which can adversely affect your book reviews.
Which kind of editing have you usually chosen for your manuscripts? How has your experience been? Do you have any tips for newbie writers?