Having your manuscript edited is like having your home staged for a huge party — like, say, a book launch! (See what I did there?)
Sometimes all you need is a light dusting and a couple of strategically placed bouquets of flowers, and you’re good to go.
Other times, you’ll need to have the carpets steam-cleaned, wash the windows, excavate the dust bunnies and old cheese puffs from under the fridge, and maybe slap on a new coat of paint.
Below is a quick guide to the main types of editing, from most intensive (carpets, windows, etc.) to least onerous (gerbera daisies and a once-over with the Swiffer).
My definitions align with the ones on the website of Editors Canada, of which I’m a member, if you want more in-depth information.
One important thing: I don’t expect you, the client, to know exactly what type of editing you need. It’s absolutely fine to get in touch with me and simply ask for an edit. (Most people do exactly that!)
I’ll ask you for a short sample of your writing. I’ll look it over, do a short sample edit using Track Changes, and then send that back to you along with my assessment of what kind of work your manuscript probably needs.
Why do I do this?
1. You’ll get to see what an actual edit will look like — the kinds of changes I might make or suggest, along with the general tone of my comments and queries.
2. I’ll get to see what kind of shape your writing is in, which helps me estimate what kind of edit you probably need, how much time it will take me, and what that work will cost.
So, from heaviest to lightest, here’s a very quick summary of the various levels of editing.
This is kind of what it sounds like: examining the structure of your manuscript with an eye to organization and content.
For a piece of fiction, I’ll eyeball the plot, setting, characters, and so forth, and make sure that your story flows from “It was a dark and stormy night” to “The End” as smoothly as possible.
For non-fiction, this means making sure your thesis/argument is sound and that your points move logically to your conclusion.
Other terms for structural editing are manuscript editing, substantive editing, content editing, and developmental editing.
Stylistic Editing (aka Line Editing)
Here, I work with you to help clarify meaning, make sure your words flow naturally, and polish up your text to ensure that you’ve said what you intended to say in a way that resonates for you.
For example, I’ll root out repetition and redundancies, clumsy wording, overuse of the passive voice, run-on sentences, and “wordiness.”
I’ll also keep an eye on mood, tone, and style (especially important in fiction), adjust paragraph and sentence length to help make your text easier on readers’ eyes and attention spans, and double-check for age-appropriate language and anachronisms.
I do fact-checking as needed (where exactly does that highway in northern Libya go?), make sure spellings are consistent (is it Susie or Suzy?), and even suggest changing up chapter titles and headings to make them catchier, funnier, or more dramatic.
I do a lot of this, for both fiction and non-fiction. Here’s what it entails:
putting the work in proper manuscript format (usually Times New Roman 12-point double-spaced) if necessary;
correcting grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and fixing problems with syntax;
fixing pronoun problems;
standardizing notes, bibliographies, and reference lists;
making style decisions based on the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) regarding punctuation, source citations, whether to spell out numbers or leave them as numerals, capitalization, Latin abbreviations, foreign words, quotations, how to use academic and military titles, when to italicize words or use quotation marks, etcetera.
Basically, I focus my laser sights on the seemingly endless details that slip past even the most meticulous authors, but that publishers (and some readers!) are very fussy about.
Most of my clients agree that getting a friendly heads-up from me is vastly preferable to having a reviewer point out that your main character has three arms on page 287.
This is a more or less hands-off look at your work. I read through your manuscript from start to finish, making notes as I go. I’ll be examining all the things I look at during a structural edit, but I also assess punctuation, spelling, grammar, syntax, flow, tone, and overall style.
In the case of fiction, I examine plot structure, dialogue, characterization, handling of POV (point of view), pacing, and so forth.
For non-fiction, this process includes looking at the overall structure of the book, the coherence of your arguments, grouping of ideas, and how well you argue your points.
This is the final, “flowers-and-Febreeze” stage of manuscript checking, and it’s done after both the edit itself and your own revisions are complete.
In a proofread, I’ll check over the “big picture,” looking for lingering mistakes in spelling, punctuation, spacing, and so on.
I’ll check layout, page headings, captions for any artwork you’ve used, and hyperlinks, and essentially make sure that the book looks as good as it can before it’s published.
"My heartfelt thanks to Jen McIntyre for the conscientious and meticulous copyediting of The Charm Buyers. I deeply appreciate all her careful, painstaking, and sensitive work on my manuscript!"
—Lillian Howan, author,
The Charm Buyers