Developmental/structural editing, line/copy editing or proofreading – if you can only afford one of these, which should it be?
This was the interesting question posed recently by a new author on the ALLi Facebook forum (one of the 21 benefits of ALLi membership). Authors and editors alike joined together in a lively conversation sharing their views, and this post shares with you a useful summary of their advice.
The Three-Stage Tradition
This three-part model grew up in traditional publishing companies, with the three stages carried out by three different people. However, the thought of paying for and organizing this trilogy of services can be daunting, especially to the beginner author.
One of the many benefits of our indiedom is that we can chart our own course, so don't need to follow in that tradition.
Other ways including paying one person to do two or even three of these stages, though not all at the same time. That's because the proofreading, for example, should only be done at the very end of the process, when all the other fixes have been done.
We can also choose to skip one or more stage altogether – at our peril, and at risk of upsetting our readers. So assuming that in the ideal world, we'd like to do all three, which really is the most important.
It's the Story, Stupid!
Everyone agreed that getting the story right was paramount – but that a story peppered with typos and grammatical errors may spoil a reader's experience and may deter them from coming back for more.
As Anna Castle put it so well, “There's no point painting a house with sagging ceilings and cracked walls”.
Choose the right developmental editor, and you'll find an important mentor who will nurture you as a storyteller.
You're not just paying to get your story straightened out – you're also buying what amounts to an apprenticeship. It's not just about structure, story arc and continuity – it's also about learning to pace your storytelling and to match the readers' expectations for your genre. The experience will stand you in good stead for future books too, whether or not you use a deelopmental editor for those.
Line editing will address your writing style and help you spot and avoid writing tics and bad habits, and fine-tune your prose to smooth the telling of your story. It's a detailed, line-by-line procedure that looks beyond simple errors. Seeing your prose marked up by a good line editor will also be an excellent education, programming you not to make the same mistakes again. It also sharpens your self-editing powers, turning on your radar to bad writing habits while you're still actually writing your copy in future.
Several authors shared the wisdom of hindsight: how much they regretted not getting their early books proofread for typos and grammatical errors, leaving it to pedantic reviewers to alert them to just how many errors they'd left unchecked. There's no excuse that a reader will find acceptable for putting out a book full of typos – and some authors counselled therefore that proofreading was the one unmissable stage in the editing process.
Some authors reported that their beta readers and ARC readers take it on themselves to highlight such errors – which is fine, provided you have an army of them at your service.
It also depends on the preferences of your beta and ARC readers. Some just love to apply their red pen to every page. Others switch off their editing eye and like to get stuck into the story.
If you plan to rely on your team of volunteers for this purpose, include that in your brief to them – or at least make sure that you have at least a handful who are happy to act as unpaid proofreaders.
And if you still have gaps in your volunteer team, work out what they are, and pay only for those services they can't provide.
There's also a huge array of free or budget-priced automated services you can use to check your text – but none has yet been invented that quite matches the power of the editor with a pulse.
Last word goes to novelist T E Shepherd who came up with a unique solution for getting his debut novel edited. Having a background in academic publishing, he was able to recruit 37 smart friends to edit one chapter each! Not all of us are so well-placed, but his example shows the power of lateral thinking in ensuring your self-published book is the best it can be!
- Whatever type of editing service you are seeking, you can find peace of mind by choosing an ALLi Partner member, whose skills will be tried and trusted, and whose service meets our high standards. Many ALLi Partners also offer discounts for ALLi authors – so don't be shy, ask! Click here to view our ALLi Partners Directory.
With thanks to the following authors and editors for their part in our forum debate: Erron Adams, Ken Decroo, Jeanne Felfe, Claire Gillen, Venessa Giunta, Ruth Jacobi, Bernadette Kearns, Virginia King, Len Krash, Leslie Krier Tither, Bjorn Larssen, Adrienne Lecter, Maggie Lynch, Alex McGilvery, Fenella Miller, Chas Newport, Christopher Norris, Mandy Parks, Joanna Penn, Delia Pitts, Alison Ripley-Cubitt, Ann Roberts, Rachel Robinson, Thomas Shepherd, Penny Thomas, Bill Weiss, Penny Wilson,
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