Many authors think that getting their book edited means getting a copy edit. And if they’ve even heard of a line edit, they often think that there’s no difference between line editing and copy editing.
There is a difference between line editing and copy editing.
Many authors think that a copy edit is all their book needs.
Both kinds of editing are important if you want your book to compete with genuinely professional authors. And you need a developmental edit as well.
Before the copy and line editing can begin, you’ll need to have your book looked at for conceptual and structural issues. This is called the developmental edit, and it can be done in a manuscript appraisal. This will tell the author what they need to do to solve structural issues like plot, pacing, world building, characterisation, dialogue and so on. It’s the big-picture editing.
Quality beta readers can give you this level of feedback, but they need to be people who know how to evaluate books and who aren’t afraid to tell you where your book falls down. Finding such people isn’t easy. Even other authors don’t always have the skills or knowledge to be able to adequately evaluate other people’s books.
Copy editing looks entirely at making sure that the grammar, punctuation and spelling are correct. A copy editor doesn’t look at the big picture. Because copy editing requires a micro focus and structural editing a macro focus, they can’t do both jobs at the same time. That’s why you need to have the appraisal done before the line and copy editing.
Copy editing is not the same as line editing, either, and though both line and copy editing can be done at the same time – blurring the edges between them – books that need a lot of line editing require a separate pass for each. This is because the editor’s focus is on different aspects of the prose for each edit.
Sometimes line editing is called substantive copy editing, but it isn’t the same as a straight copy edit. Line editing checks whether or not the author has expressed themselves clearly and effectively. It looks specifically at the quality of the prose and improves it. A line edit checks word usage, removes unnecessary repetition, restructures sentences so they’re varied and flow smoothly, and so on.
The difference between line editing and copy editing
A good line editor knows the difference between active and passive prose and between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’. Because of this they can turn dull prose into something more engaging. With a line edit, mediocre writing can become excellent writing, and poor writing can become good writing. A copy edit doesn’t do this. A copy edit merely corrects the grammar, punctuation and spelling. Though that’s a vital part of the overall edit, writing that is grammatically sound can still be dull and fall into stylistic traps such as ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.
Different kinds of editing have different focuses
Line editing requires the editor to look specifically at the prose, and so they can miss issues with the bigger picture. That’s why a separate developmental edit is necessary.
Imagine that you’re walking towards a wall on which your manuscript is written. The developmental edit / manuscript appraisal is like standing where you can see the whole wall and how the main elements work together to produce a satisfying story. The line edit is like standing close enough to examine each paragraph and sentence and their relationship to the paragraphs and sentences around them. The copy edit is standing close enough to look at each word, phrase and clause and how they relate to the other sentence elements. A proofread checks the copy edit.
A comprehensive edit includes all levels of editing
If you want to produce quality books and be able to say that your book has been comprehensively edited, then your edit must include a manuscript appraisal and line edit as well as a copy edit and proofread. And yet many authors think that if they’ve had their book copy edited, it means they’ve had their book edited. Trouble is, it’s only been half edited. Though many readers won’t be able to express exactly what’s wrong with books like that, they will recognise that it falls short in comparison with something that has been fully edited.
Do experienced authors need their books line edited?
Experienced authors’ books don’t need a line edit only if they can write prose that doesn’t require it. But if you’ve never had a line edit, you don’t know what you don’t know. Even if your books are selling well and you’ve written many of them, you may unknowingly be repeating issues with your prose that mark your book as below mainstream standards.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many books that fall into this category, and I simply can’t read them. They may be a good story, but I’ll not spend my leisure time reading poor-quality prose.
The bottom line
After all the time you’ve put into writing your masterpiece, shouldn’t you take the extra step to make sure that your time wasn’t wasted? If your book is worth publishing, isn’t it worth investing in doing it properly?
Yes, a line edit costs more than just a copy edit, but you’ll learn from the process. You’ll do a better job of writing your next book and the editing for it will cost less.
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