There are different types of book editing – including proofreading, copy-editing, and developmental editing – for different stages of the publication process. You should be aware of what kind of editing your manuscript needs and what is involved in each type.
“An editor is a person who knows more about writing than writers do but who has escaped the terrible desire to write.”
– E.B. White
Many writers are confused about different types of book editing. Even editors can’t agree on exactly what’s involved in each type, and that’s because it’s difficult to draw definite lines between them. The definition can change with each editing job too, and is only finally decided in the author or publisher’s brief to the editor – the outline of exactly what the author or publisher requires from the editor – which can range from correcting only the obvious typos to suggesting word count cuts or changes to story structure, plot, and characters.
We’ll look at the three main types of book editing: proofreading, copy-editing, and developmental editing.
Proofreading gets its name from the “proofs” typesetters produce before the final print run. The text has been laid out into pages, complete with photos, diagrams, tables, etc. These used to be called galley proofs (and still are when printed), but in these days of electronic publications, they’re more commonly called uncorrected proofs and usually come as a PDF file.
At this point, the publisher (a company or an independent author) will have paid for someone – or worked hard themselves – to set the manuscript text into the book’s final format. That means it’s too late to make any major structural changes or delete paragraphs and sentences, as this has a knock-on effect in the subsequent pages. It can cost a lot of time and money to redesign the book after such major changes.
Proofreading comes at the end of the publication cycle. It’s the final check before the book is printed or, in the case of eBooks, before it is published and sent to distributors.
For this reason, proofreading is intended to pick up the final typos and spelling mistakes and to correct inconsistencies, like making sure the word “proofreading” is always spelled as one word and not “proof-reading” or “proof reading.”
In the case of printed books, proofreaders also look for awkward word splits at the end of a line and ensure there is no ugly single line left at the top of the page from the previous paragraph (known in publishing as a widow) or at the bottom of the page, which really belongs with the paragraph on the next page (orphan).
Proofreading is only done after the raw manuscript has already been edited. Before that, the text should have at least gone through…
Copy, in the publishing world, refers to the text. So, copy-editing could just as easily be called text-editing.
Some people, including editors, call this line editing. Others say line editing is a different thing, but what it all boils down to is an editor going through the text, line by line, looking for typos, spelling mistakes, and inconsistencies, which can make it seem a lot like proofreading. But, in copy-editing, the editor will do much more, including:
- Correcting grammatical errors
- Pointing out redundancies (words that can be cut from the text without losing the meaning)
- Looking for repetition (when words or phrases appear unnecessarily repeated)
- Suggesting revisions to improve sentence and paragraph flow
- Suggesting revisions to improve syntax (how the words are arranged in a sentence or paragraph)
- Revising the formatting to prepare the text for publication
Editors work on a copy of the author’s manuscript, usually a Word file, using the track changes function and adding comments to explain any changes or make revision suggestions. The author can then go through each of the changes and accept or reject them one by one and make any revisions where necessary.
The manuscript is, therefore, still at the draft stage when it goes for copy-editing. The manuscript will have gone through many revisions before it is ready for copy-editing.
Only when the author is completely satisfied with the plot, story structure, characterization, settings, etc. is the manuscript ready for copy-editing. And nobody, no matter how good, gets all that right with a first draft. If the author isn’t 100% happy with all these aspects of the book, then it might be worth considering…
3. Developmental editing
Development editing, also called substantial editing, structural editing, or full editing, means the book gets a full, substantial, structural, developmental edit. This will often include everything that’s involved in proofreading and copy-editing, plus a detailed critique of the essential elements of the story (in the case of a novel), which include:
- Story structure
A developmental edit will come early in the publication process, while the author is still in the drafting stage. The author will have rewritten the manuscript a few times before it is ready for a developmental edit.
Not every book needs developmental editing from a professional editor. Feedback from competent beta readers or a discerning writing group can be enough to iron out all the wrinkles in the book’s structure.
Note that the words ‘competent’ and ‘discerning’ are key in that last sentence. That rarely means your family and friends, wonderful though they may be. You wouldn’t ask the average lawyer, sales director, or math teacher to repair your car, so it’s rarely a good idea to trust them with your life’s work.
As with copy-editing, the editor will use track changes to make revision suggestions directly onto a copy of the manuscript, but the developmental edit will usually include a separate critique document detailing – sometimes chapter by chapter – the changes the author could make to improve the areas listed above.
- Developmental editing comes early in the writing process, after a few drafts, and not every book needs it (though most do).
- Copy-editing is done when the author is satisfied with the story after several rewrites, and every book should be copy-edited.
- Proofreading is necessary for only the final, formatted book, right before publication, and every book needs proofreading.
In the end, it’s up to you, the author, to decide how much or how little editing you would like for your book. You might not want the editor to interfere with the format, for example, and you might have your own ideas for a particular style issue (always The Beatles, not the Beatles). It certainly helps to be aware of what an editor can do, and what can be done at each stage of your rewriting. Writing is, after all, rewriting. And editing. But, of course, I would say that.
Image via ShutterStock.com.