Know Your Stuff: Different Types of Editing

If you’re planning on self-publishing, you’ll need to sort out your own editing. Whether you’re enlisting beta readers, helpful friends or professionals, it helps to know the different types of editing and what is involved with each.

What is commonly referred to as ‘editing’ can actually be divided into four types of editing:

Read and review – sometimes also called a critique. This is not a true edit, but a short review giving suggestions for improvement. You can ask friends, family, your writing peers and strangers on the internet (known as beta readers) to read and review things for you, and some companies offer paid critiques. You can expect a critique to pick up on major problems with plot and characterisation, but they may be quite varied depending on the reviewer’s area of expertise. Some reviewers may focus on stylistic issues or use of language while others may pick up on inaccuracies, inconsistencies or other elements. Getting a critique is a useful first step to check you’re heading in the right direction and identify any major areas you may need to rewrite.

Structural editing – sometimes called developmental editing. A structural editor will look at your manuscript as a whole, covering areas such as plot, characterisation, themes, voice, dialogue, pace and flow. They’ll be looking at the ‘big picture’ and how everything fits together, and should also pick up on major inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Structural editing is complex and time-consuming. You’ll need to find an editor who works in your genre. It goes without saying that you also need to have a good relationship with your editor, so choose someone you like and with whom you have a ‘spark’. Structural editing usually results in a significant amount of rewriting, so make sure you have this wrapped up before moving on to copy-editing or proofreading.

Copy-editing – this part of the process is concerned with getting your work ready for typesetting. A copy-editor will not address ‘big picture’ issues like those listed above. They’ll make sure your work is accurate and fit-for-purpose. As well as looking at spelling, punctuation and grammar, they’ll also look at style, consistency, wording, legal issues and technical design elements related to the typesetting process. If your work contains illustrations, graphs and tables these will also be covered. A copy-editor should flag up doubtful facts for your attention and may query noticeable plot holes and certain other elements, but their main focus is on the fine details.

Proofreading – this is the last stage your manuscript will go through after typesetting and before the final print run. A proofreader looks at spelling, grammar, punctuation, layout and consistency. They’ll also check that your work has been typeset correctly – that page numbers and page headings are all present and correct, that illustrations and captions correspond, that styles are consistent, and that the table of contents is correct. They may do a little light editing where necessary, but the proofreader should intervene only with good reason, because at this stage in the process you want to minimise additional costs and delays to publication.

I can’t afford to get all these types of editing done! Which should I prioritise?

In my opinion, copy-editing is the stage you really can’t afford to skip. Structural editing is important – hugely important! – but if you’re a genuinely talented writer with the capacity to put some distance between yourself and your work, there are other ways to get developmental input into your work at less cost. It pains me to say this, but bad spelling or grammar (I’m talking about mistakes throughout, not just the odd spelling error!) is the biggest turn-off for readers, and there’s no point in producing a fine story if people can’t even make it past the first chapter because there are so many minor irritants.

If you build a rapport with your copy-editor, they should be happy to keep an eye open for any significant structural problems and at least flag them up for you, even if they don’t suggest solutions.

We offer few types of editing including critiques, copy-editing and proofreading. Please feel free to contact us if you want to discuss any of these services in more depth and see how we can help you.

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