You want to hire an editor, but which kind? Developmental, line or copy? Or is it a proofreader you need? My guide will help you.
What content do editors work on?
I’ll save the whole spiel for another post about why you need an editor or proofreader. Spoiler: you probably do.
Editors and proofreaders work on a wide variety of content, often specialising in one or a few particular areas. Just a few of the kinds of content that need editing are:
- books (fiction and non-fiction)
- short stories
- websites and blogs
- social media posts
- academic essays and theses
- online courses
The above content types could be further sub-divided into genre or industry. It makes sense to hire an editor who has experience in your particular area.
What are the different kinds of editing?
There are several kinds of editors. Your content (both its ‘state’ of readiness and your industry or genre) will determine which type or types of editor or proofreader you need.Your content (both its 'state' of readiness and your industry or genre) will determine which type or types of editor or proofreader you need. Click To Tweet
Developmental editors examine a piece of writing from a bird’s eye view. They look at elements such as structure, character arcs, plot and order of events. They tend to be hired for longer works, such as full-length fiction and non-fiction manuscripts.
They work on the macro view of your project, checking whether each part is in the right place (or even needed), and ensuring the general flow and direction is right.
Sometimes this stage of editing is broken down further into ‘developmental editing’ and ‘structural editing’. The latter is more concerned with the structure (especially useful for novels that have complicated structures) and the former is a stage earlier, looking at very high-level elements like plot and character. Make sure you ask your editor exactly what their service includes, so you don’t get any nasty surprises.
If you need the advice of a developmental editor, seek it before you hire a line editor or copyeditor.
Line editing, also known as ‘stylistic editing’, involves looking at every line of a piece of work (as the name suggests!) and seeing if it can be improved in terms of style. It focuses on aspects such as grammar, flow and word choice.
If you are a first-time writer, it is a good idea to hire an editor to line edit your work. Their suggestions can be invaluable and raise your writing to a new level.
This is what most people think of when they hear the term ‘editing’. Copyediting is more concerned with language mechanics than line editing, involving an in-depth look at grammar, spelling and punctuation.
Copyeditors who are worth their salt will also fact-check to a degree, and improve flow, as well as look for repetitions, contradictions and anything that doesn’t make sense within the story.
If you have a large number of facts in your book, for example, a detailed historical novel or a complex non-fiction book, there is the option of hiring a separate fact-checker. These are niche editors who concentrate purely on researching every factual detail in your manuscript to ensure you don’t end up with embarrassing errors in your final copy.
Only hire a copyeditor once you are confident you have a fairly strong piece of writing that is structurally sound and flows well.
This term is often used when writers actually mean ‘copyediting’. Proofreading is a check of the final book, magazine, website etc, when it is in the format that readers will see it. The book will have been edited, laid out and designed.
This stage looks for issues of layout and formatting. It will also look for the odd grammar, spelling or punctuation issue that may have slipped through the editing process, or been introduced when edits were incorporated.
Some editors will conflate a line edit and a copyedit into one project. Others may offer a ‘proof-editing’ service, that is, a final proofread with a light copyedit thrown in too. These are valid approaches and can work out slightly cheaper overall than going through all three stages in detail.Some editors will conflate a line edit and a copyedit into one project, and/or offer a 'proof-editing' service, that is, a final proofread with a light copyedit thrown in too. These are valid approaches and can save you some pennies. Click To Tweet
Some authors prefer to work with the same editor/proofreader for all three stages. Others prefer to get a different insight from two or three different people. Either approach is valid and each has its pros and cons.
Which kind of editor do you need?
In short, the more editing stages you work through, the more polished your final product will be. However, it depends on your content. Some examples are below:
If you are a new author and are writing a full-length novel or shorter novella, I strongly recommend that you work through all the editing stages, from developmental editing to proofreading. I’m not a developmental editor, but I can help with line editing, copyediting and proofreading.
You may be a seasoned fiction author with a good grounding in story structure, plot and character arcs. If so, you may feel you can skip the developmental editing stage. You may already know you have a solid writing style, so choose to go for a mixed service of line editing and copyediting, then a proofread.
If you write short stories, although they still need a structure, they are more manageable in this respect, so unless you are a complete novice and need a lot of guidance regarding structure, you are probably safe moving onto the line editing, copyediting and proofreading stages.
If you’re unsure of the level of editing you require, get in touch and I’d be happy to help.
Many non-fiction authors fall into the trap of thinking that they don’t need a developmental editor in the same way as fiction authors might.
This is a fallacy.
Non-fiction books still have a structure (at least, they should do). They also need pacing and an authorial voice. Writers of non-fiction, particularly beginners, should hire a developmental editor to ensure they are heading in the right direction.Many non-fiction authors fall into the trap of thinking that they don't need a developmental editor in the same way as fiction authors might. This is a fallacy. Click To Tweet
Advice for non-fiction editing and proofreading is much the same as for fiction. The more stages you work through, the better the final product will be.
If you’ve written website content and want it checked over for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, as well as SEO, writing-for-web and accessibility issues before uploading it, you don’t need a developmental edit or line edit, rather a specialist web copyediting service.
You may have already created your website and want it checked before launch. It may already be live and you’d like to make sure it’s free from errors in layout, formatting and language. There are also web-related issues such as SEO and accessibility to consider. In this case, you need a specialist website proofreading service.
All editors work in slightly different ways, so you’ll find a bit of overlap between the various stages. However, there are differences between the stages, and it pays to understand what these are.
The kind of editing service you need depends to a large degree on the type of content you are producing and your writing experience. However, you will need some level of editing or proofreading to make your content the best it can be.
The more editing stages you work through, the greater your chance of being seen and appreciated by your audience.