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Choose the right editing service for your manuscript

Editing is the process of reviewing and polishing text to reduce errors, improve clarity and create a more impactful reading experience. This means checking grammar and spelling while also looking at issues like expression, logical flow, consistency, style, story structure, and logical argument.

There are four broad levels of editorial engagement with a text:

1. Editorial assessment

An editorial assessment is a high-level overview of your work that identifies its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement. This is the most abstract level of editing and doesn’t involve any on-page working of the text. Instead, the editor will provide you with a detailed report that examines your book in terms of plot, structure, characterisation, marketability, and any other factors that need to be addressed before the manuscript can go on to the next phase of editing. Read more about editorial assessments.

Who needs an editorial assessment?

I recommend an editorial assessment to all authors who have completed their first or second draft and want to assess the book’s publishing readiness or get help on specific issues. It is very rare that a first draft is ready for text editing as there are usually structure, plot, length, pacing and other problems that first need to be ironed out. Editors who do editorial assessments are story specialists rather than language specialists (though the same editor can certainly do both), and they will therefore be able to offer valuable insights into your work and help you move forward if you have become stuck on any point. A good editorial assessment will help you avoid spending money on copy editing text that is not ready for editing.

2. Developmental editing

Developmental editing – also known as content editing, story editing, structural editing or substantive editing – looks at the big-picture aspects of your book such as plot, character, logical argument, pacing and style. It points out plot holes or lapses in logical argument and may suggest extra scenes or chapters that need to be written. The developmental editor might also ask for cuts or recommend other significant changes that require reworking of sections of text. Whereas an editorial assessment provides a high-level report on the required changes, a developmental edit gets hands-on with the text and marks specific chapters and paragraphs with instructions or suggestions.

Who needs a developmental edit?

In traditional publishing houses, this is usually the first edit a book receives. The developmental editor will have a keen eye for the market and their edits will be aimed at making your book as commercially successful as possible. If you’re an indie author, you might choose to begin with a developmental edit if you know your story has problems that you can’t fix on your own and you need someone with an objective eye and a good grounding in story mechanics to help you move forward. A lower-cost option is to begin with an editorial appraisal (described above) which is a more general overview of the work and the main issues that need to be addressed.

3. Copy editing

Copy editing – also known as text editing – looks at the text and language issues. This is where the grammar and spelling corrections happen. The copy editor will also look at sentence flow, tone, clarity of expression, consistence, and adherence to a style guide. A copy edit can involve some rephrasing of passages and reworking of complex sentences to improve readability.

Copy editing vs line editing

Some editors offer a separate level of editing called line editing, which is essentially a copy edit that focuses on issues of style, expression, and flow rather than the nitty gritty of grammar and spelling (which is then dealt with in another round of text editing). In practice, many editors will simply look at both aspects at the same time and call it a copy edit. However, the rate for this more holistic form of copy editing can be a bit higher than if the author specifies a plain text edit. If in doubt, speak with your editor and clarify your priorities and available budget.

After the first round of edits, the text is returned to you to approve the changes and to attend to any other notes the editor has made. There might be a bit of going back and forth between you and the editor to get particular passages just right. The copy edit is usually done with Word’s Track Changes feature activated so you can see exactly what has been changed.

Who needs a copy edit?

In a traditional publishing house, the manuscript will go to the copy editor once all the structural changes of the developmental edit have been addressed.

For self-publishing authors and everyone else producing written works, copy editing is the one editing level that cannot be skipped. It’s where most of the work on the text happens and where the major textual errors and ambiguities are caught. Copy editing is usually priced according to the level of work needed (e.g., light, medium or heavy edit).

4. Proofreading

This is the lightest level of involvement and is the final check of already edited text before it is published. Traditionally, proofreading happens on the hardcopy page proofs (hence the name proofreading) rather than in the electronic document. Proofing consists of a check for superficial errors such as misspelled words, missing punctuation, extra paragraph breaks, incorrect formatting, layout issues and any other gremlins that might have crept in during the copy editing or typesetting phases. A proofread does not include any rephrasing of text unless the correction is a simple matter such as changing word order or breaking a long sentence into two.

Who needs proofreading?

Proofreading is always a good idea if you really cannot afford small errors showing up in the published document. The copy editing process will clean up most errors, but it won’t catch everything. In fact, the copy editing process might even create some errors of its own. If your work is only going to be published online or is for an email or internal communication, you can get away with not having a proofread. The same goes for academic papers and dissertations, where the assessors understand that students can’t afford multiple rounds of edits. Where you absolutely do need proof editing is if your work is going to be printed in book, magazine, pamphlet or other printed format. This is because readers of printed works tend to be less tolerant of errors and because the typesetting or layout process will often introduce its own errors.

Get my developmental, copy editing and proofreading rates.

A brief note on accuracy

Some clients demand fault-free copy after a single round of editing, but this is not an achievable goal. It is estimated that every round of editing will leave about 10% of mistakes still in place. The more rounds you do, the more mistakes will be caught, but even six rounds will not eliminate every typo or formatting error. One should therefore see editing as a process of reducing errors rather than eradicating them completely.

Unsure of what level of editing you need? Get in contact and we’ll take a quick look at your text and make recommendations.

The 4 levels of editing - Appraisal, developmental, copy, proofread

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