Editing, shmediting. It’s all the same thing, isn’t it? You’re going through making sure your draft looks good so you can get your work published, right? At its heart, yes. That is what editing is. However, it’s much more than that. There are several kinds of editing that focus on different aspects of the work. Let’s go over some of them.
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This level of editing looks at the story itself. Does the plot make sense? Are the characters’ behaviors consistent throughout the story? Do you have extraneous scenes or jumps in scenes that don’t make sense? Developmental or substantive editing is the most labor intensive level, which is often why it costs the most when you’re paying an editor. It is also normal to make significant changes, such as deleting scenes or major rearrangements, during this editing process. The major difference between these two types of editing, when seen, is when the process starts. Developmental editing often starts at the beginning of the project, long before writing the first draft. Substantive editing usually starts after that first draft is written. Overall, though, the main goal during this level of editing is to ensure the story itself is solid and consistent.
Copy Editing/Line Editing
The main goal in this phase of editing is to review the mechanics of the writing. This is all about things like grammar and punctuation. Though this level of editing seems like it would be more labor intensive, it is not. This is because the focus shifts from the overall story to the words themselves. Therefore, if you’re paying your editor, this phase will not be as expensive. Do not skimp on this phase of editing though. It is critical to ensure the presentation of your work looks good because good mechanics allow readers to see the great story you’ve created. This can also be called stylistic editing, which is where the editor is ensuring the author’s voice is clear throughout the piece, and style manual rules are followed. Also, know that copy editing can get split out as a separate service. If it is, then the focus of the copy editing is much more technical than on style issues.
This level of editing is often confused with copyediting. The two are very similar. However, there are two distinct differences. The biggest difference is that this step happens after the work has been put into the final print format whether that is an electronic or physical print format. The second distinct difference is that this is a final pass for stray errors. This is because errors can happen during the formatting process and you want to catch them before going to print. Your goal should be to look as hard as possible and find as few errors as possible by the time you get to this stage. No editor or editing program will ever catch every single error. It’s just not possible. Therefore, it is important not to skip this step. Just remember, proofreading is not meant to be anything more than a last double check before the piece is printed. If you make any substantial changes, the best plan would be to go back at least to the copy editing/line editing phase, reformat it, and then proofread again.
Putting It Together
So, there you have it. Some of the terminology may vary, but these are the basic levels of editing. Some editors may specialize in one level, but do no editing on another level, so be clear about what they offer and you expect before you enter an editing agreement. Asking for samples of the editor’s work is another way to see exactly what the editor does. These steps will go far in making sure everyone’s experience is as positive as possible. Also, these editing steps should happen in this order. There is no point to fixing grammar in a section you later rearrange drastically or cut. I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions, or experiences with the different levels of editing. Hope this helps!