Do you know the difference between four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines? What about the difference between project accounting, management accounting, and forensic accounting?
How about the difference between substantive editing, copyediting, and proofreading?
Most authors know they need a book editor for their novels, but they don’t get what they need because they don’t know what type of book editing they need! The process can be even more difficult because so many editors define edits differently. That’s why it’s important to have a basic understanding of editing so you have an idea of what to ask for.
Here’s a quick look at the different types of editors (based on the most widely accepted definitions of each) and when you should hire them:
Substantive Editor (a.k.a. Macro or Content Edit): A substantive (macro or content) editor looks at the big picture. Substantive edits not only point out areas for improvement, they also include notes, suggestions, and tips for improving the manuscript. A substantive edit includes:
- An evaluation of fiction-writing techniques, such as:
– Characterization (relatability, believability, goals/motivation/conflict, backstory)
– Plot development (hook, transitional elements, introduction/conclusion, subplots)
– Genre-specific notes
- General writing techniques
– Showing vs. telling
– Including the five senses
- Assessment of basic writing skills (grammar, punctuation, formatting, pacing, voice)
- Overall assessment of the story and writing strengths and weaknesses
When to get a macro edit: This is your first edit, especially for new authors or authors switching genres. In today’s market, most new authors need to hire a substantive editor before submitting to agents or publishers. (If you’re self-publishing, do this before worrying about the other stuff.)
Copyeditor: Think nuts and bolts. Now that your plot holes have been filled and your characters strengthened, the copyeditor breaks out the red pen to mark each errant comma, space, reference, and notation. These are the grammar Nazis and the English teachers of your nightmares, but they are vital to producing your best possible manuscript. The Christian Editor Connection explains that an in-depth copyedit could include:
- Making sure material is logical and understandable
- Correcting continuity problems
- Flagging inaccuracies and inconsistencies
- Sentence clarity
- Word choice
- Maintenance of tone/voice
- A review for consistency of style and mood or presentation of content
- Pointing out items that may require permission from the copyright holder
The copyeditor points out errors/issues to the author but does not rework awkward or unclear sentences/paragraphs.
When to get a copyedit: After the substantive edit, when the story issues have been cleared up and it’s time to make sure the manuscript is clear and consistent. If you sign with a traditional publisher, they most likely have in-house copyeditors.
Proofreading: An author’s last line of defense, the proofreader looks for anything the substantive editor and copyeditor missed.
- Typographical errors
- Misspelled words (including incorrect word usage)
- Grammatical problems (including verb tenses and syntax)
- Punctuation mistakes (including proper abbreviations and capitalization)
- Inconsistent format
- Letter or sentence spacing errors
- Specialized terms, character names, location references, etc.
- Numerical and alphabetical sequences
- Vertical and horizontal alignment of set-off text (including paragraph indents)
When to get a proofread: If you’re self-publishing, this is the last step before you format your book. If you’re traditionally publishing, the publishing house will have their own proofreaders.
You may also see people who offer line edits (I do), but make sure you find out how he/she defines a line edit – it’s been my experience that line editing has more definitions than any other type of editing. Which brings me to perhaps the most important advice I can give you about determining what kind of edit you need:
Ask each editor how he/she defines the different types of editing.
My definitions here will help give you an idea of what you need, but each editor’s services are different, so you need to make sure your ideas of substantive editing match.
Now that you know what kind of editor you need, stop back on July 12 to help you find out how to find the right editor!