I thought I’d kick off my series of articles about the editing process by defining certain editing terms. In my wordage travels, I have come across a lot of confusion regarding just what an editor does and what certain terms mean. If you want to know WHO an editor is, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but you might find this article–I Am An Editor And Batshit Crazy–particularly interesting and enlightening. Go ahead and read it. I’ll be reiterating the major points here, but that article in particular will give you an idea of how my brain works and why I love my job so much.
*Photo courtesy of godidwlr on morguefile.com
My approach to editing is from the position of a freelance indie. I work mostly with indie writers; I love the freedom this gives the both of us. The process of taking a raw manuscript from the bloody beginnings to a polished and professional product is amazing. But there are different types of editors and different levels of editing.
Content or developmental editing: My specialty is content editing. A content editor evaluates the entire and complete manuscript from start to finish for story structure, including plot, character arcs, story flow, pacing, logic, back story, and an overall look at where these things can be improved or tightened up. Under this umbrella also falls developmental editing. While a content edit deals with a completed manuscript, a developmental edit may start at the very beginning of the writing process, in which a writer and an editor start from a basic outline, character sketches, and working together, “develop” a working ‘script.
A content editor will never, ever try to change your “writer’s voice”. And if they do, RUN. This is not the type of editor with whom you want to work.
Copy editor: A copy editor is not involved in the overall plot, per se, but helps you tighten up your prose to mean what it says and says what it means. A good copy editor will help you clarify what you want to say through word choice and sentence structure, along with cleaning up any grammar faux-pas. For instance, where to use “lay” and “lie”, catch those pesky “there, they’re, and theirs”, or how to construct a sentence so your reader knows what you really mean, which might sound good in your head but not translate well to the page.
Proofreader: A good proofreader is gold. This is your final polish, and the intrepid proofreader will catch spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Not a job for any but the most detail-oriented. I bet most proofreaders have their sock drawer color-coded. I have a lot of admiration for proofreaders because it is a particular skill-set, and one I do not possess.
Ideally, your manuscript needs to go through each step even after you are done with your own self-editing. There is no way for any writer, I don’t care who you are (looking at you, Stephen King) who can be objective enough about their work to be able to perform each and every step.The human brain is not built that way.
Think of it this way. You live with a partner every day for six months. One morning, they come out of the bathroom and say, “Holy shit, why didn’t you tell me half my left eyebrow was gone?”
You never noticed. Because you’ve seen this person every day, your eye just happens to pass over the missing left eyebrow because you’ve seen it and it doesn’t even register. Same with your manuscript. You’ve worked on it so much for so long, the flaws disappear into your brain cells and you just can’t see them anymore. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means you have blind spots that only someone else who is objective can pick out. That’s where your editor can help.
In the same vein, my opinion is a content or developmental editor is so involved with your story that by the time the content edit is finished, if they’ve done their job correctly they are too close to the story to serve as a copy editor and/or proofreader. Be wary of people who say they can do all three jobs in one. While a certain amount of copy editing may be accomplished in a thorough content edit, this by no means precludes the need for a professional copy edit and proofreading.
Next Thursday I’ll talk about contracts. And then we can get into the nitty-gritty of how to whip your manuscript into shape so you can get the most out of hiring an editor at any level.
*Photo courtesy of Penywise from morguefile.com