You already know that an editor can give you advice and suggest improvements to your manuscript. Probably even recommendations you haven’t thought of. But how do you decide what kind of editing you and your book are ready for? Developmental editing? Substantive? Line or copy editing? And then there’s mechanical, production, and proofreading. When do you need one, or another? Might you ever need them all? Do you ever publish without, or with only a self-edit?
Great questions. We’ll answer them all. They happen at different stages of turning your manuscript into a book your readers will buy. Let’s take a look at what each type of editing entails and how it can help you create a stellar book.
Developmental editing is the first level of editing your manuscript will go through. The traditional definition of a developmental editor is someone who acts more like a writer’s coach. It’s someone who helps you plan the design, structure and outline of your manuscript. This is why developmental editing is the most time-consuming phase of editing your book. It consists of a lot of back-and-forth between you and your editor. The developmental editor looks at the big picture.
The developmental editor will go through your manuscript and give you feedback (some of it might hurt). They will identify gaps in your manuscript and suggests topics that you may want to expand on, or topics that you are covering in too much depth. Then you need to rewrite and make changes as suggested, or explain why you’d rather not make those changes. The developmental editor will then go through your new draft and make suggestions.
Be aware that you may have to write several drafts before your manuscript is ready for the next stage. Yes, it can be soul crushing. But if you’re serious about producing the best book possible, you’ll need to learn to put your ego aside. The advice is worth listening to. Remember: the developmental editor is one your side.
Some authors skip the developmental editing process. However, especially if you’re a new author, it’s very important to have someone take an objective look at your book idea and/or your first draft. You won’t regret a developmental editor’s help refining the concept of your book. It’s also incredibly valuable to have someone who can guide and support you through the writing (or re-writing) process.
Developmental editing and substantive editing are often used interchangeably since they both focus on the structure and content of your book. However, with developmental editing you still do most of the actual writing, while with substantive editing, the editor is the one reorganizing text and filling in the gaps. This doesn’t mean that the substantive editor will write your book for you: that is what a ghostwriter does. To improve the flow, the substantive editor may rewrite sentences or entire paragraphs and may even add bits and pieces to ensure the topic is covered well.
Where developmental and substantive editors focus mainly on the bigger picture, the line editor gets down to the nitty-gritty. During the line editing phase, the editor looks at every sentence and checks your word choices. He or she may cut superfluous words and make sentences more concise. What a line editor doesn’t do is check for grammar and spelling mistakes. The focus here is on the style and tone of your writing.
A copy edit is essentially a very intensive proofread. The copy editor checks your manuscript for grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and consistency. He or she will draw up a style sheet and use this to guide stylistic decisions, such as whether to write “co-operate” or “cooperate”. The copy editor also focuses on the type of English to use: British, American, Canadian, and so on.
Copy editing often includes mechanical editing. Here, the editor focuses on applying a certain style guide, for instance the Chicago Manual of Style, APA Style or Oxford Style. There are different style guides for fields like journalism, law, social sciences, physical sciences, chemistry and medicine. They guide small details such as whether or not to use full stops in abbreviations or how to format citations. They can also guide word choice, for example which personal pronouns to use to make the book more inclusive.
Production editing doesn’t focus on the words as much as the technical aspects of developing a manuscript into a book. In many ways it’s project management. The production editor may commission and manage different service providers, such as illustrators, photo researchers, permissions researchers, designers or typesetters, and indexers. For example, a production editor identifies the artwork that may enhance the text and then commissions an artist or photo researcher to create or find the appropriate illustrations. He or she will also identify text that is copyrighted and apply for permission to use this text in your book. The production editor works closely with the designer or typesetter to identify and fix lay-out issues and present a book that is visually pleasing.
Proofreading is the final stage of the editorial process. A proofreader’s job is to go through the final page proofs, with lay-out complete, and to check for typos and any errors the editor may have missed. A good proofreader doesn’t only check the text but also identifies errors in design and lay-out, for instance inconsistent line spacing or page numbering.
If you’re a traditionally published author, you don’t need to worry too much about which type of editor to employ or when. Your publisher will sort this out on your behalf, often in the background. You should still expect to be called upon for your input throughout the editorial process. Depending, of course, on what’s spelled out in your contract.
As an indie author, you’re managing your own publishing project and you’re acting as your own publisher. The choice is all yours as to which type of editing you choose and at which stage. However, we can’t in all good conscience advise that you ever proceed to publishing without at least a couple of professional edit rounds. Unedited manuscripts are obvious to readers and negatively affect sales. Don’t you and your book deserve the best?
Related blog: Five Ways You Can Work With Your Editor Like a Pro Today
Boni is co-founder of Ingenium Books. She's author of One Million Readers: The Definitive Strategy to a Nonfiction Book Marketing Strategy that Saves Time, Money, and Sells More Books. Boni is an author coach, editor, and ghostwriter. As an award-winning former Canadian television reporter, news anchor, producer, and talk show host, working under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray (it's a long story), Boni covered politics, government, the economy, health, First Nations, and crime. She won several Canadian Association of Broadcaster (CAB) awards and a Jack Webster Award for best documentary. Boni also held senior management roles in government, leading teams responsible for editorial, issues management, media relations, and strategic communications planning. Boni is co-author of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Start, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up and, like any good author, has several books in progress.
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