You may know that your book needs editing before publishing – I certainly hope so – but do you know the answer to the question, ‘What does book editing involve?’ You may not know what having your book edited actually means. I’ve seen books by authors who swear that they have had their books edited, but all they’ve had done is a proofread!
A PROOFREAD IS NOT AN EDIT
Having your book edited isn’t just finding someone to check that there aren’t mistakes in grammar and punctuation. The story, characterisation, dialogue, world building and so on has to be checked as well to make sure there are no plot holes and continuity problems. And (unless you’re an experienced author who writes excellent prose) the prose needs to be worked on to make sure that it reads well – to make sure your book doesn’t look like something a teenager might write.
Most authors become too close to their work to see it clearly, and they can never see it from the perspective of a reader who has never read it before. But an editor can. It’s like the difference between an aerial view and the view from a point on the ground. Authors need the editor’s aerial view if they’re to make their book the best it can be.
A full edit comprises all four forms of editing undertaken in the following order. Some books will need less work at different stages, and some books can have the line and copy edit done together, but all four areas need to be covered before you can say that your book has been edited, and before you can be confident that your book is a quality product.
The Four Kinds of Editing
THE STRUCTURAL OR DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT
The structural or conceptual edit looks at the big picture: plot, pacing, characterisation, dialogue, structure and so on. Specifically an editor will look at the book and ask:
- Does it have the elements needed for a strong plot?
- Are the characters believable, well fleshed out and easy to relate to?
- Is the pacing too slow or too fast?
- Is there conflict and tension?
- Is the voice consistent?
- Is the point of view consistent and changes handled smoothly?
- Are there any unnecessary scenes, backstory or information dumps?
- Is it conceptually consistent in world building and themes?
- How can the author make it better at the structural level?
The editor will give specific suggestions as to how you can improve your work. Some may do the actual work for you, others will give you their opinion in a manuscript appraisal but leave it to you to work on it with their suggestions in mind. The latter is, of course, the cheapest option.
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THE LINE EDIT
- Cuts unnecessary words and repetition;
- Turns passive prose into active prose;
- Checks word, metaphor and simile usage;
- Makes sure that sentence structure varies and has a good rhythm;
- Makes sure that your words make sense and that you are actually saying what you want to say;
- Makes your prose shine.
In beginning authors, a line edit makes the difference between a book that is professionally written and one that is not. Once you’ve worked with a line editor and learned from them, your editing costs should decrease in future books as your prose improves. This level of editing is often missed out by authors who are unaware of the difference between this and a copy edit, and not every editor has line editing skills. Copy editors are much more numerous, and if you’re not clear on what you want done, you may only get a copy edit.
THE COPY EDIT
Corrects grammar, spelling and punctuation.
For some books this can be done at the same time as the line edit (which is why the two kinds of editing are often confused) but if a book has to be heavily line edited, a separate pass will need to be done for the copy edit. Where a seperate pass for copy editing is required, some editing services (like mine) will use a different editor for the copy edit because fresh eyes are always better than someone who has already worked on the book.
Picks up typos and corrects anything the copy edit missed.
If the copy edit is done by a different person to the structural and line edit, then the copy edit may suffice as the proofread. If the line and copy editing are done together, then a separate proofread is required. Always have your book proofread by a different editor.
Now that you know the terminology and can answer the question ‘What does book editing involve?,’ you’ll be able to better communicate with prospective editors. Be careful, though, if they don’t seem to understand the difference between a line and a copy edit, I suggest you look elsewhere.
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If you like this post or have anything to add, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. And if you’re looking for an editor and you think I might be a good match, I recommend booking a manuscript appraisal because even if you don’t employ me to edit your book, you’ll get the benefit of my opinion and suggestions.
This is part of a series of blog posts on how to write a novel. It doesn’t just cover the technical details, but also the emotional journey we take and the personal challenges we meet on the road from potential author to author. Join the journey now, and don’t miss a post, click here to sign up to get my Novel Revision Checklist and links to the articles sent to your inbox.
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You’ll also find my book on writing, The Elements of Active Prose: Writing Tips to Make Your Prose Shine, very helpful.
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