“What kind of edit does my manuscript need?” “What do editors actually do?” “What's the difference between editing and proofreading?” ” Do I really need to hire outside help?” These are common questions among author-publishers who strive to make their books the best they can be prior to publication, but with an eye on a businesslike budget. Tahlia Newland, coorindator of the manuscript appraisal service Awesome Indies, provides useful definitions and guidance.
‘But I’ve had my book professionally edited,’ authors often tell the Awesome Indies submissions coordinator when he tells them that their book does not meet the same editorial standard as a mainstream-published book.
It seems that many authors are not clear on what is meant by ‘professionally edited’. A common misunderstanding is that the term is synonymous with copy editing or with any kind of editing that you pay for. It’s not. Payment is not the defining aspect if you happen to have a qualified person who will do it for you for free. The comprehensive nature of the editing is what makes a ‘professional edit.’ Many books don’t make Awesome Indies approval because whoever did their editing either didn’t do a line edit, or wasn’t rigorous enough with it. The editing was there, it just wasn’t comprehensive enough.
What does a comprehensive edit entail?
A comprehensive edit includes four different kinds of edits, and each requires a separate pass over the material. The best results are achieved when two or more editors work on one project, as is the case with mainstream publishers. Fresh perspectives mean fewer errors and more than one opinion of subjective points.
These edits are:
- The developmental/structural edit—this works on the big stuff: plot, pacing, character development and so on.
- The line edit—this works with the prose: word usage, clarity of expression, sentence construction, eliminates overwriting, unnecessary repetition and so on.
- Copy edit – checks grammar, punctuation and spelling;
- Proofread—the final pair of eyes to pick up anything missed by the copy editor.
Structural and developmental editing can be approximated by asking beta readers for their opinions, but the results are only as good as the readers’ ability to analyse the work and suggest ways to improve it. Few readers have the ability to do this to the degree required, so unless the beta readers are editors or experienced reviewers or authors themselves, I advise getting the opinion of a professional. A manuscript appraisal is the cheapest way to do it.
Line and copy editing are often thought to be the same thing, probably because they can be done by the same person at the same time if the book doesn’t need a lot of line editing. But authors shouldn’t assume their book falls into that category. If authors have never had a book line edited by a professional, then they need to – at least once – because most authors, no matter how knowledgeable, do not recognise the flaws in their own prose. Once you’ve worked with a line editor (a ruthless one who isn’t afraid to chop out redundancies and tells you why they make the edits they do) you’ll be a much better writer.
At the very least, work with an editor who will not let poor expression pass them by. Some editors will copy edit a book and never concern themselves with things like poor word choice and overwriting. I can’t let a badly worded sentence pass me by no matter how grammatically correct it is. Authors need to ask for a line and a copy edit, and if the editor doesn’t seem to know the difference, the author should find someone who does.
Which Types of Editing Do Indie Authors Need?
Out of the four kinds of edits, the one Awesome Indies reviewers find most lacking in indie books is the line edit. We see many books with great stories and that have been well copy-edited and proofed, yet they still need a line edit, or a more rigorous one.
An author can do a certain amount of self-editing, but no author can do a definitive edit of their own work.
The problem is that the author knows what they’re trying to say, but the reader doesn’t. The line editor makes sure that the author is expressing their ideas as clearly, elegantly and succinctly as possible.
A good line editor makes sure that the prose reads well, and their edits make an author’s voice stronger and clearer. An author that neglects the line edit risks a product full of poorly written prose. Most readers will not notice, but anyone with higher education in English literature, linguistics, journalism, editing or creative writing will, and if you want to be sure that your book is of the same standard as a mainstream published book, then all four kinds of editing are necessary.
(While Tahlia's guest post understandably includes links to relevant posts on her own blog and on the Awesome Indies' website, in the interests of fairness, ALLi should point out that other editing and manuscript appraisal services are available, including many from other ALLi partner members.)
EASY TWEET #Authors – useful definition of the 4 kinds of #editing from @TahliaNewland: www.selfpublishingadvice.org/editing-definitions/ via @IndieAuthorALLi #amwriting