Before you begin the important process of editing and publishing a book, you should understand the processes and terms used throughout. There are several editing terms, and different editors sometimes use the same terms to mean very different things.
It’s cost effective to make sure you don’t mix up the order of editorial services. You don’t want to pay for a full copyedit, only to realize that after rewriting three chapters and revising an important supporting character, including changing the spelling of her name, now you have to pay again for a complete—and duplicate—copyedit.
For this reason, I have defined the various terms and outlined my related services below. These descriptions are designed to help you understand:
- What kind of editing you need.
- Whether I can help you.
Before you hire a professional
The first stage of editing is usually done with your first reader or readers. Perhaps this is a writing group. Maybe it's a family member, or a friend, or a teacher. The key is this is someone whose opinion about writing you respect. Please also ensure this is someone from whom you can accept criticism, since the goal is for them to help you see your weaknesses, as well as your strengths. They can help you see:
- your blind spots.
- parts of the plot that don't hold up.
- characterization that doesn't feel natural.
- if your voice changes halfway through your story.
- your writing dialect.
Your writing dialect consists of the turns of phrase you use over and over, grammar rules you rely on to the point of mundanity, or rules you habitually break that don’t aid in your artistic endeavors.
For example, I like to toss asides into my prose, like seasoning. But sometimes, I use too much and it becomes hard to follow the primary story, so my readers remind me to dial back the tangents except where it truly adds to the prose.
Once you’ve squeezed as much feedback as you think you can get from your writing group or early readers it’s time to engage a professional editor. You can start with a basic editorial assessment of your full manuscript.
An assessment is an overall review of the novel in its current state. My editorial assessment includes direction regarding big picture issues, like:
My notes come in the form of an editorial letter, where I lay out my suggestions for what is working and what areas need revision.
A developmental edit is a deeper dive into the kinds of suggestions you get from an assessment. So, we’re still talking about big picture concerns, like plot, characterization, voice.
We’re aiming to tighten the plot, ensure the characters and their motivations are believable, get rid of ambiguity (unless ambiguity is the goal), further develop your voice, clarify the themes in your work.
In a developmental edit, I will make notes within the manuscript itself that show you specifically where I’m suggesting you revise, as well as how to implement those revisions.
For clarity, a developmental edit is not a copyedit. While I will mention in the editorial letter any grammatical, spelling, or mechanical errors you make consistently, I won’t highlight them in the manuscript. At this stage, we may still be moving around scenes, entire chapters even, deleting characters, heavily tweaking your authorial voice, so it’s inefficient to concern ourselves with punctuation and such.
Once you are satisfied with your manuscript, it’s time to copyedit. You should not use the same editor for copyediting as you did for developmental editing. As editors, we become blind to spelling errors, inconsistencies, writers’ pet phrases or crutches (as a colleague once dubbed them). For the best copyedit, you should hire someone who will have fresh eyes, who has not read your manuscript before.
I can provide heavier or lighter copyediting depending on your time and budget constraints. For fiction, there’s less variance—I’m editing for clarity, consistency, readability, and style.
I work in Word and use Track Changes. I create a style sheet that is specific to your manuscript. This records any decisions we’ve made, including character name spellings, punctuation and spelling choices that are unusual or where there are multiple “right” options, made-up words or words that aren’t commonly used. Anything you’ll want a proofreader to have on hand, or that you might need to refer to if your book becomes a series or you simply decide to revise at a later date. It’s also useful if we do multiple rounds of copyediting, so that we both remember the decisions we’ve made.
The final editorial task is proofreading. Again, this should be someone looking at your book with fresh eyes. Proofreading is done on designed pages. I compare the laid-out book pages to the final manuscript to ensure no errors were introduced and that if any changes have been made after layout, those changes were implemented correctly. In addition, I look for awkward design elements. We may do multiple rounds of proofreading.
Query Letter Review
I also work with authors seeking a traditional agent or publisher. I can help with your query letter, making sure you’re being concise, hitting all the important points an agent or editor wants to know about you and your manuscript, and that your letter is as clean and readable and interesting as possible. I can write it from scratch, or clean up one you've already begun.
I've started collecting some resources I hope will be helpful to clients, potential clients, and writers just looking for help and information. I'll post here as I gather them. I may create a separate tab for these eventually.
How long does it take to edit a manuscript?
I like this article for helping set expectations about how long editing should take. A good rule of thumb is that people read about 200 words per minute and retain about 60 percent of what they read. I want better retention than that when I'm editing, so I can read a lot slower than that sometimes. Then you have to include the time it takes me to mull over my thoughts and ideas, then to put them down in writing in a way that you will understand what I'm asking you to do. So a quick estimate for developmental editing is to quadruple (or more, often) the amount of time it would take an average reader to just read the manuscript. If a reader, one who's not looking for ways to improve the text, would take seven hours to read the text, it's likely I'll estimate thirty hours to do a DE. A copyedit will likely require fewer hours, and a true proofread (meaning I'm proofreading typeset pages of text that was well-copyediting in the manuscript form) will take far less than 30 hours.
Why do you want to know who my ideal audience is?
This article by Jane Friedman for PW's Booklife neatly sums up how you are likely to lose sales if you don't understand who your audience is from the get go. Here's a(nother) hint: it's sales. Even in children's books, even in fiction for children, if you don't know your audience before you start writing, while you're revising, when you're pitching your book to acquiring editors, and when you're trying to get your book into bookstores, you aren't going to sell many books. So figure out who you're writing for. What do they expect from their literature? What do they enjoy? Why do they read? What else do they read or do for fun? How do they learn?