Determining the kind of editing you need
Developmental editing, structural editing, line editing, copy editing, proofreading…Editors wear many hats. We use different terms to mean different things, but in general, you can think of editing as falling into three buckets: heavy lifting needed, thorough editing needed, and just a pinch, please! If yours are the only eyeballs that have touched your work, you likely need heavy-lifting editing, as in developmental/structural. Or maybe you’re at the conceptual stage of your book, in which case you’ll need book coaching. Here’s a look at some of the types of editing your manuscript may need.
Book coaching is typically an iterative, long-term project that involves many drafts going back and forth between the author and editor. (Because it’s impossible to know what the total word count will be for an in-progress book, book coaching fees are usually project-based or hourly, whereas developmental/structural editing fees are typically tied to the total word count.)
Developmental/structural editing looks at big-picture issues, like how the book is arranged, whether the concepts covered are consistent, if there are gaps in content that cause any confusion, etc. If you’ve written a novel, this kind of editing takes a hard look at how well the plot plays out and how well the characters connect with each other and the reader. Essentially, does the book work as a whole, or do you need to clarify/add/delete/rewrite content? This level of editing may result in substantive changes.
Line editing and copy editing
Line editing and copy editing are often used interchangeably, but both involve scrupulous attention to each word and line of the text. In addition to fixing grammatical issues and rectifying improper punctuation, a line or copy editor also makes sure verb tenses and character/setting details are correct. The copy editor also remedies repetitive wording and redundant details. (Hey, we all have our pet phrases!) This is also a good time to create a style sheet if one doesn’t already exist. A style sheet records how certain words are stylized, like unique terms and character names, and it notes how the author uses subjective punctuation (let the serial comma debate begin!) and subjective spellings (grey vs. gray and toward vs. towards). If your text contains specialized formatting, the style sheet notes that as well (i.e., certain words are in bold text, subheadings are in all caps, foreign words are italicized). Whether you write out numbers or use digits, whether you consistently capitalize certain words or not, whether you say “11 AM” or “11 a.m.” or “11 am”…a robust style sheet contains all of these details.
After the heavy lifting is done and your book has been thoroughly edited, it’s ready for the final polish: proofreading. The proofreader whips out that trusty style sheet and goes through the text with their editorial radar ready to scan every style point and ping every typo. This is the last line of defense against extraneous semicolons and unnecessary “thats.” Your opus is now jumping over the final editorial hurdle! (If you also need indexing services, it’ll come after the proofreading, once all of the words have been firmly pinned to their pages.)
In addition to these services, some editors also offer editorial assessments. That’s an overall look at your book with feedback about high-level concerns, but it doesn’t include any line edits or in-the-margins comments. Not every editor offers this service – some prefer to get dirty in the trenches, editorially speaking. Even if you do have an assessment done, you’ll still need to have your manuscript edited.