What Is the Definition of Editing?
The most common answer: correcting misspelt words or adding a comma where it belongs. That’s somewhat correct, but only the tip of the iceberg. The editing process involves many sets of eyes and several layers to complete.
It’s important to understand the different types of editing to know what to expect from the process, especially for self-publishing authors. Why? The revision levels focus on specific individual needs, including stylistic and substantive content. For simplicity, we’ll divide editing types into four main categories: content and development, line, copy and proofread.
The Steps Simplified
Step 1: Content and Development Edit
The first step for most manuscripts is content and development editing – reviewing the meat of the story, plot and characters. Developmental editing tackles the following:
- Chapter (arrangement, length and number);
- Character voices;
- Plot and subplot;
- Pacing; and
- Impact of POV (first, second, third or combination).
Content and development edits can and will sometimes result in revisions to chapter order or construction, and even additional chapters written. Do chapters alternate between the hero and heroine, shifting from first to third person point of view? Content editors eat that up! They’ll ensure the third POV is following singular or omniscient rules, and that the audience connects with the character.
Step 2: Line Edit
Line edits focus primarily on sentence and paragraph structure with attention to:
- Words or phrases that are repetitious;
- Restructuring sentences that are not complete or inaccurate;
- Run-on sentences;
- Usage of words that clarify meaning; and
- Enhancing boring wording.
A line edit restructures sentences to elevate clarity and flow. Say there are two sentences describing something really important, but they don’t quite pull together. During this step, the line editor will take the two sentences apart and tease them until they read effortlessly.
Step 3: Copy Edit
The mechanics happen during the copy edit, focusing on specific rules, including but not limited to:
- Grammar and punctuation;
- Spelling nuances (for example, British English versus American English);
- Capitalisation, hyphenation, italicision; and
- When to use numbers instead of letters.
The copy edit can and should be automated using rules. Every editor uses two to three references to maintain consistency – specifically, a dictionary and a style manual. For fiction, the Chicago Manual of Style is widely used and accepted. Use of dictionaries should be selective to ensure spelling is primarily standard English wherever you reside or want your publication published. If you’re looking for an international or US audience, the Merriam-Webster dictionary is most common. If you’re aiming for a European or UK audience, I would recommend the Oxford English dictionary.
It’s also important to note, there are subtle differences between style manuals (APA, MLA, CMS, Chicago and so on), and dictionaries. This can be frustrating when semantics come into play about an edited final product. Using the same style manual and dictionary throughout will ensure consistency.
The copy editor can and should provide a style sheet, pointing out rules as they pertain to the revisions made. Familiarity with the Chicago Manual of Style is helpful, but the copy editor should provide the changes as they relate to the CMS for relevance as well as improving writing skills.
Step 4: Proofread
The proofread is the final, and hopefully, painless phase. A proofreader has the last shot at the manuscript and looks for:
- Spelling errors;
- Words that sound the same but are spelt differently;
- Correct usage of quotation and punctuation marks;
- Missed words (of, and, the); and
- Unwanted spaces.
Proofreading falls outside the technical realm of general editing. In-depth accounting for content and flow should occur before a proofread. A proofreader isn’t expected to critique or provide an exhaustive review.
A Few Pointers
It’s easy to see how manuscripts come together using this methodology, right?
There are common misconceptions. Content and development editors aren’t responsible for grammar and punctuation. Line and copy are often confused, although it’s clear that sentence structure and grammar rules are different focuses. The same problem arises with copy edits and proofreads.
Hopefully it’s clear why the editing steps don’t often occur out of order.
Every piece is essential. Sometimes steps are skipped or omitted. It’s also not unheard of to use multiple proofreaders to polish the final product. Regardless, several editing style combinations based on skill level are possible.
And Then There’s Everything Else
Editing a novel can be daunting. Knowing and understanding what to expect each step of the way is part of the process. Remember, when working with an editor, or as an editor working with a writer, stay open to suggestions and discussion. Sometimes discussing revisions sparks ideas.
Importantly, don’t rush the process. Editing is the last step of writing the novel. At best, it’s harrowing aligning calendars to finalise cover art, formatting, marketing and a million other tasks that coincide at the same time. Taking the time to work through these layers will deliver a sound product.