What to Expect from the Editing Process

Editing is not meant to be a painful process, but after an author dedicates so much time and effort into writing their manuscript it can certainly feel painful. I often refer to the editing process as “polishing your manuscript.”

Many authors don’t realize that there are multiple types of editing services available to help polish a manuscript, and if you don’t choose the right service to match your needs you may not get the polished results you want.

Before I list the three main types of editing services, I want to take a moment to explain that a critique service is separate from the editing process. Some editing services may include a critique, but a critique usually focuses on giving feedback on the overall reading experience and does not offer specific recommendations for editing or rewriting the manuscript.

Now that this disclaimer is out-of-the-way, let’s review the three main types of editing, when those levels of editing are necessary and what to expect when you hire that type of editor. At the end of this post you will learn where to find the editor you need.

1. Developmental Editing

For non-fiction authors, this is a high level of editing that focuses on improving the ability of the paragraphs, chapters to work together to form a complete book manuscript that explains the author’s unique perspective. The developmental editor’s goal is to help the author form a clear vision for the book and organize the book in a way that clearly and consistently reflects that vision.

Like a critique, a developmental editor may comment on the books’ organization, the strength of the author’s argument in support of their unique perspective, the tone and the impression it leaves on the reader, the ability of the manuscript to flow smoothly from one point to another and points out issues with grammar, spelling and mechanics.

However, unlike a critique, a developmental editor may research similar books and make recommendations that will give your book a distinct voice from other books in the genre. Some developmental editors will also give tips for a marketing plan that compliments the book’s vision.

This type of editing may also be known as substantive editing or heavy line editing.

When is developmental editing necessary?

This editor usually works with first-time authors, authors who are writing in a language that is not their native language, and authors who want help transforming existing manuscripts to match a new audience or compiling large amounts of notes or other independent messages into a single book manuscript (e.g. turning a series of course lectures into a book or a translating a collection of blogs into a book).

What should I expect when I hire a developmental editor?
  1. Your developmental editor should have experience in working with your genre or be an expert in your book’s topic. To verify this, ask for a list of references, look for editing samples or ask for a list of earlier developmental editing projects.
  2. Your developmental editor should be able to accurately describe your book’s vision to your satisfaction. Your developmental editor’s ability to understand you and your message is key, or else the resulting document will not represent your true vision for your book.
  3. Your developmental editor will want a copy of all the written content you have for your book. You can work with a developmental editor before you write a single word, but consider asking for a sample edit if you already have written content to make sure that you two are a good match.
  4. Your developmental editor may want to talk with you before working on your book to make sure that you two are a good match. It may be a good idea to ask for a free sample edit to make sure that your styles are a good match. If you don’t like the vibe you get from the developmental editor or you don’t understand what they say during the conversation, this can be a sign of future problems while working on your manuscript.

Developmental editors have different work processes. So ask a lot of questions before you hire your editor and do not pay anything until you understand exactly what you are getting and all the associated payment arrangements.

2. Copyediting

Copyediting focuses on the paragraph and sentence level of the book manuscript. These editors analyze the sentences of your manuscript for accuracy, word choice, tone, grammar and punctuation. The copyeditor is the one most likely to make editing marks like the ones in the image above.

A copyeditor may also be referred to as a copy editor or a line editor.

When is copyediting necessary?

In general, the publishing industry recommends that every author allows a copyeditor to check their manuscript-regardless of how many publications the author has written.

What should I expect when I hire a copyeditor?
  1. Your copyeditor should have experience with editing documents line-by-line for grammar, spelling, consistency in terms, syntax and other details. Your copyeditor does not need to have experience with your genre or be familiar with your topic to do this level of work.
  2. You need to know which style guide your copyeditor uses. The publishing industry standard is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), but don’t assume that your copyeditor will use CMOS. Ask your copyeditor which style guide they use before the work begins to avoid frustration later. If you or your publisher prefers another style guide you will need to let your copyeditor know.
  3. Ask for references from your copyeditor and review their samples if they are available (they should be). Many copyeditors take tests to certify their skills, so if the copyeditor you are talking with has them they will certainly let you know. If the copyeditor you are interviewing does not have any certifications, then you should definitely pay attention to their references and editing samples. 
  4. Ask for a free editing sample. This allows you to see their work in action on a small part of your manuscript.
  5. Ask about their submission guidelines. Most copyeditors use Microsoft Word track changes to make electronic recommendations directly to your manuscript. For this reason, it is best that your manuscript is double-spaced and follows the other manuscript formatting guidelines that they specify. If your copyeditor does not offer formatting guidelines, use the CMOS manuscript guidelines.  (If you are not familiar with how to work with track changes, click on the version of Microsoft Word you have on your computer to get access to a short tutorial on how to rewrite a document with track changes:  Word 2007, Word 2010Word 2013. )

As a last note, always discuss payment terms before the work begins and do not pay anything until you understand the entire payment process and the service you will receive.

3. Proofreading

Proofreading is most effective when it is done after the book has been formatted, and it is usually limited to addressing typos and minor grammar and punctuation errors overlooked in earlier rounds of editing or introduced during the formatting/book layout process.

When is proofreading necessary?

You should proofread your book after you have completed all revisions from the copyediting process before it is sent to the book designer to be formatted for print and again after the book has been formatted. This is not meant to replace copyediting because it does not check for everything that copyediting covers.

What should I expect when I hire a proofreader?
  1. Your proofreader should have experience with editing documents line-by-line for grammar, spelling, and formatting consistency. Your proofreader does not need to have experience with your genre or be familiar with your topic to do this level of work.
  2. You need to know which style guide your copyeditor uses. The publishing industry standard is the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), but don’t assume that your proofreader will use CMOS. Ask your proofreader which style guide they use before the work begins to avoid frustration later. If you or your publisher prefers another style guide you will need to let your proofreader know.
  3. Ask for references from your proofreader and review their samples if they are available (they should be). Many proofreaders take tests to certify their skills, so if the proofreader you are talking with has them they will certainly let you know. If the copyeditor you are interviewing does not have any certifications, then you should definitely pay attention to their references and editing samples.
  4. Ask for a free editing sample. This allows you to see their work in action on a small part of your manuscript.

As a last note, always discuss payment terms before the work begins and do not pay anything until you understand the entire payment process and the service you will receive.

Where to Find the Editor You Need

  1. Hire the editor recommended by your publisher. Browse your publisher’s website or simply ask someone in the company for information about editors. Some self-publishing companies, like CreateSpace, offer editing services. Other publishers may refer you to a business partner like Scribendi. Note that the process of working with a company to edit your work may be different from the information above and you will be less likely to have one-on-one contact with the person(s) who physically edit your work.
  2. Hire a freelancer who is affiliated with an organization with a standard of ethics. Most membership organizations will include a directory of members to help you find the type of editor you need. A couple of examples of such organizations include Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) and National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE).
  3. Hire a freelancer who is listed on a freelancing website. 
  4. Click on the “Services” button in the menu at the top of this website to find a developmental editor.

Question: Do you think editing should be a required part of the publishing process?

Image by: Phoebe (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Danielle Fetherson

Danielle helps aspiring authors become published authors. She believes that everyone has at least one book on the inside of them that can make a positive impact on someone else's life. If you have been thinking about writing a book, learn how to start your book today with the free resources at DanielleFetherson.com.

Comments