Updated: Jan 14
The editing stage is a crucial step in the writing process, and that means investing in a fresh pair of professional eyes, not depending on Grammarly or ProWritingAid. If anything, relying on artificial intelligence to polish your novel can cause more harm than good as these kinds of software lack the knowledge and understanding of the publishing world.
So, if you’re serious about attracting a literary agent or succeeding as a self-published author, you need to get yourself a book editor or search around for a literary consultancy. However, some writers have no idea which type of editor is best for them. Many often believe that a proofreader is the expert they need after they have finished writing their manuscript, but this can’t be further from the truth. As a result, they may end up wasting their hard-earned money on something they don’t yet need, so it’s essential that you do your research before you hire an editor.
As there is so much confusion about what different editors do, I have written this detailed glossary to help you understand the difference between the various editorial professionals.
Unfortunately, many writers decide against hiring a professional editor before they query literary agents due to the belief that the agent will edit their manuscript for free upon representation. While this is partly true, you need to impress the literary agent first, and that is less likely to happen if your book is riddled with errors and inconsistencies. You may wonder how this information links to the role of an acquisition editor, but there couldn’t be more of a connection.
You see, many writers believe that the editors who read through the unsolicited manuscripts at literary agencies are the same as the editors who will polish their manuscript to perfection, which is why they refuse to pay to hire one, but this really isn’t the case.
In contrast to editors like myself who perfect the copy or development of a manuscript, an acquisition editor seeks sellable stories for their agency or publishing house. If they are an acquisition editor at a literary agency, they are the ones who read through the ‘slush pile’ in search of the best novels, and if they are based in a publishing house, they will read the novels sent in by agents. As a result, they will most likely possess extensive knowledge of what type of books will sell, so if your novel has even the smallest plot hole, character inconsistency or language error from the start, they will likely reject it, which is why it is incredibly important to hire a professional editor before you query an agent.
As well as taking care of the unsolicited manuscripts, acquisition editors may also converse and negotiate with agents and publishers, depending on where they’re based while attending various conferences to meet different authors in person. Consequently, they do not have the time to edit an error-riddled manuscript; they will only accept the ones that are the most polished, providing it matches the genre and style their agency or house is looking for. To make more sense of an acquisition editor’s role, here is a brief list:
Reading the ‘slush pile’ for upcoming talent.
Communicating with agents and publishers.
Attending conferences to meet authors face-to-face.
Overseeing the development of a represented manuscript.
So, if you’re one of the ones who rely on the belief that an acquisition editor will simply edit your unedited novel, please reconsider your thoughts and think about investing in one of the following professionals.
Developmental editing focuses on the “bigger picture” of a manuscript and is usually carried out before line editing, copy editing and proofreading. It wouldn’t make much sense to tackle the content of your story after adding and cutting scenes and polishing the language, so if you feel that your manuscript needs a developmental edit, make sure this is the first type of editing you go for.
To give you more of an insight into what developmental editing involves, here is a list of areas a developmental editor will focus on:
Character Development: Are the characters believable and likeable? Are they relatable and realistic enough for the genre and target audience? Has the reader provided enough detail about them?
Plot: Is the story believable? Is the ultimate goal realistic and achievable? Is it engaging? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed? Does the plot suit the genre and target audience?
Subplots: Do the subplots enhance the main story? Are they relevant to the main plot? Are they exciting or too complicated?
Dialogue: Is the dialogue believable and realistic to each character? Has each character got a unique voice? Does the dialect match and reflect the time or geographic area? Is the dialogue appropriate for the age of the characters?
Chapters: Do the chapter titles match the content? Are they all a similar length? Are they in the correct order? Could any chapters be cut or merged to tighten the overall structure?
Structure: Is the manuscript structured correctly? Does it follow the three-act structure? Is there a strong beginning, middle and end?
These are all questions a developmental editor may think about when editing a manuscript, but it’s always helpful to keep them in mind yourself when revising your work.
Many often believe that copy editors only check for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and typos. While that is an integral part of their role, this is a false assumption.
A copy editor is often responsible for the overall context of a manuscript and is in charge of revising a new, rough draft. It is up to a copy editor to make sure that the writer’s manuscript is readable, clear, and coherent. However, this does not mean that writers can send a load of gobbledegook to professional copy editors and expect them to make sense of it – if an editor cannot comprehend what you have written, they will be unable to polish it.
Here is a short list of areas a copy editor will likely focus on when editing your manuscript:
Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, punctuation misplacement, and typos.
Incorrect homophones such as weather and whether, farther and further, or there, they’re and there.
Clunky, lengthy or over-complicated sentences.
Inappropriate or offensive words and phrases (unless using this type of language is relevant to your character or plot.)
The consistency of spelling (UK versus US spelling), capitalisation, numbering, and font.
The consistency of the plot, setting, and characterisation.
The consistency of your writing style, character voice, and tone.
Possible plagiarism or copyright infringement (if you haven’t actively copied another author, you will most likely be fine, but make sure you check to be safe.)
Facts and statistics – if you have used any within your fiction novel, especially if you are writing in the historical genre, make sure everything is correct and accurate.
Transitions, such as time jumps, scene changes, location changes, flashbacks, and visions – a copy editor will ensure they are correctly paragraphed.
The order of your chapters, and how relevant your chapter titles are to your text.
Copy-editing and line-editing are incredibly similar, so it’s no wonder that many people confuse the two, but copy-editing is a little lighter than line-editing. As listed in the previous chapter, copy-editing mainly focuses on the writer’s language, consistency, and structure of a manuscript, while checking for mistakes in your syntax, grammar, and writing style.
A line editor will likely revise the same areas as a copy editor, but will also spend extra time on the pace and flow of your writing, your writing style and your tense consistency. They may also rewrite individual sections to give your work that extra shine. To provide you with more of an insight, here are a few questions a line editor may ask when editing your novel:
Is the point of view consistent in this scene, or does it jump all over the place and make things confusing?
Does each sentence flow smoothly from one to the next, or are they clunky and tricky to read and digest?
What is the intended tone of this scene or chapter, and does the author’s language match it well?
Is the writer’s language and style clear, concise and free of boring clichés?
Are there any unnecessary words or phrases that could be cut to help the flow and pace of the manuscript?
As line-editing improves the overall language of a piece of written content, this type of editing is ideal for writers who are self-publishing. Line-editing is also beneficial for non-native speakers and people with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
In contrast to developmental editors, line editors and copy editors, proofreaders carry out the final tweaks before publication. It is not a proofreader’s job to revise your language or plot, that is the job of a copy or line-editor, which explains why proofreading is usually the final step before publication. It would be a waste of time for a proofreader to tweak a manuscript that is still riddled with character issues or language errors, so avoid hiring a proofreader until your manuscript is almost ready for literary agents of self-publishing.
Anyway, unlike the other types of editors we have explored throughout this article, a proofreader will correct your grammar, spelling, punctuation mistakes and any typos that have found their way into your work. To give you more detail, a proofreader is the one who will spot and remove the extra space after a full stop, who will remove unnecessary commas, and who will correct your homophones. Ultimately, by the time they have finished with your manuscript, it will be free of errors and easier to read.
However, you may think that proofreading is easy compared to line-editing, but this far from the truth. Being the second pair of eyes to polish a piece of writing creates a lot of pressure, and it requires a real skill to remain focused enough to catch the mistakes that have slipped through the net.
Although beta readers aren’t required to have any knowledge of editing or publishing, they can be beneficial when you have finished your manuscript. If you haven’t heard of the term before, beta readers are ordinary people, often avid readers and writers, who agree to review a manuscript for free and provide honest feedback on what works and what needs improving.
Some writers skip the beta reading stage due to the fear of critique or having work stolen, but having a few extra eyes on your book can really help you to pinpoint which type of editor you need. For example, if your writing style, syntax and grammar is fine, but you have some issues with your plot or characters, you will likely benefit more from a developmental editor than a line or copy editor.
So there we have it – six areas you can research and invest in before you query a literary agent or self-publish! I know professional editing can be expensive and daunting, but most editors love their job and adore helping writers like you! Plus, you are more likely to iron out more errors and consistencies with the help of an editor, so don’t be shy!
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm the book editor and proofreader at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent literary consultancy in the UK. I help passionate writers and authors to get their novels ready for literary agents or self-publishing.
In weekly blog posts, online courses and daily Instagram posts, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!
Let me ask you something...
Do you seriously want to pursue your passion of writing and publishing books people actually want to read?
Are you currently planning, writing, or editing your manuscript?
Are you ready to become a successful author?