When an author starts out, one of the hardest things to decide is what kind of edit they need. They’ll ask their friends. They’ll ask their family. But many sources lack the knowledge to make a professional opinion. And many authors don’t know an editor. To know the difference between types of edits, you first must know the stages.
Stages of Editing
The book is done. You’ve spent months…years going through the stages of writing. Let’s review them, shall we?
- Rough draft (First Draft)
- Revisions (Second Draft)
- self-edit (Third Draft)
- Beta readers
- self-edit (Fourth Draft)
… … …
Now, an editor reviews. Several things can go wrong with a story. What is wrong is based on a number of things: how well does the author write? How much experience does the author have? Has the author gone through the eight stages of writing? Has the author used beta-readers? Did the author edit? Did the author attend school? Is the author a plotter? Does the author read?
Building a book is like building a body. There is the skeleton, the tendons and organs, and the brain and nervous system.
The skeleton is the form. This is the order of the story and the layout. This is the order of events. So long as the nervous system and tendons are in order, it’s pretty simple to break and reset a few bones. Some work will be required to be sure the nervous system isn’t damaged, but as a whole, the skeletal frame requires the least amount of correction.
Fixing the skeleton is called a developmental edit. We’ll be checking the book’s frame and be sure that everything is in the right order. Be ready to cut characters, rearrange scenes, and write up entire chapters. We’ll be breaking bones and resetting them. But when we’re done, you’re book will shine…
The tendons and organs are the grammar. This is your syntax, spelling, punctuation, and misplaced modifiers. This is your antecedents and missing transitional sentences. Redundant words, purple prose, and contradictions…This is the working machinations of you manuscript.
Anyone of these organs be transplanted and traded out with some work. Depending on the damage, depends on how much work is ahead of you. Damage to the tendons and organs can be fatal, but most of the time, it’s manageable. Unless…
This is your line edit. The line edit will require a copy edit later: cosmetic surgery to clean up the mess. Expect some follow up surgery. A line edit may be extensive. Now we’re getting into heart surgery…
If your manuscript requires heart surgery (if the author is not educated on misplaced modifiers, antecedents, and head hopping), the author will most likely require grammar lessons and should probably conduct an entire rewrite of the book before hiring an editor.
Line edits reflect the author’s grammatical knowledge. We could be talking about spelling, missed commas, and redundant usage (minor). This is a proper line edit. But we also could be talking about an author who does not know what a clause is, or what an antecedent is (major).
If the author is grossly uneducated in grammar, the manuscript is beyond an editor and the author really needs to attend a grammar class or two prior to hiring an editor. This kind of work precedes a developmental edit.
The nervous system is like your plot, characterization, and setting. Any damage done to the nervous system may not be salvageable. A broken nervous system is fatal and will most likely reshape the story beyond recognition. A broken nervous system may require a full scrub on the project and a return to the white board. This may set you back a few years.
Does your character lack character? Is your setting invisible? Is your story lacking plot and movement. Does it take half the book to get to an event?The nervous system is damaged and you need to return to the white board and index cards and start over. An editor is a long ways away (depending on how fast/well you write).
A superficial wound? Skin graphs? Cosmetic surgery? Second-degree burn? Welcome to copy editing. We’ll be looking for misspellings, redundancy, and commas. We’ll be polishing this manuscript for an agent or publisher.
Need a band-aid? That’s proofreading. This is done by the publisher. If you are the publisher, this is when you mail a physical copy of your novel to an editor for review. When we are done, we mail the book back to you.