Today we’re talking editing! One of my favorite parts of writing.
Why? Because the editing phase is when you start to put the shine on your words and you find little pieces of brilliance here and there. And you get to watch your work GET BETTER literally right before your eyes. I mean, come on! What’s NOT to love about that?
If your goal is to put out a professional-quality book, then you need the help of more than one editor. The first two kind of edits listed below could be done by the same person (but not at the same time—one is a big picture look at your book, the other is a detailed, nitpick, and it’s pretty much impossible for an editor to do BOTH of those things simultaneously and do them effectively) but the last edit, the copy edit, must be done by someone else entirely, someone who’s reading it for the first time. I’ll tell you why below.
1. STORY EDIT
Once you have a completed manuscript and have gone through it yourself AT LEAST once to fix any problems you find (don’t send your first draft to your editor—it’s rough, it needs at least a once-over before you send it out…don’t make their work harder than it has to be), you need a story edit.
What It Is
A story editor looks at big picture stuff: plot problems, pacing, story arc, organization, world building, believability, characters (whether they’re likable, behaving logically/consistently, etc), voice, and backstory.
Why You Need It (And Why You Need It FIRST)
You can’t see these problems because you’ve got the whole story in your head and are too close to it. You need to get a sense of whether you’ve actually gotten the right amount of story down on the page, whether your story is working at this point, and if it’s not, then what you need to do to fix it.
You need this kind of edit EARLY ON in the writing process because these can be BIG things that need fixing. You don’t want to have wasted time polishing something that isn’t put together well or has pacing problems or is just not working. Find out the big things at the beginning, go back to your manuscript and fix whatever ails it, and THEN move on to the nitty-gritty.
Who Can Do It
A story edit can be done by the same person who will be doing your line edits later on in the process, or it can be done by a critique partner (if you go this route, you may want to ask more than one person to give you the big picture feedback). But it needs to be someone who has an indepth understanding of the mechanics of story, and who will look at your work critically and be completely honest about the problems in it.
2. LINE EDIT
After you’ve fixed any big story problems thanks to the genius of your story editor, have edited your work YOURSELF as much as you can (more on that in tomorrow’s Self-Editing post), have gotten your work to the point that you feel it’s pretty darn shiny (aka you’re not sure what else to do with it), and it’s gone through several beta readers and their feedback has been incorporated…NOW you’re ready for the nitty-gritty, aka Line Edits.
What It is
A line editor looks at word choice, consistency, repetition of words, repetition of information, grammar and mechanics. She tightens sentences/paragraphs/chapters, smoothing the narrative out, getting rid of superfluous words/sentences/paragraphs (less is more! simpler is better!). This editor doesn’t rewrite your text, but makes suggestions to MAKE IT BETTER.
Why You Need It
This is another case of You Can’t See the Problems Because You’re Too Close to It. You need someone else’s VERY CRITICAL eyes to go through and get rid of the chaff so all you have left is the sparkly, shiny story you were trying to tell in the first place. This step in the editing process puts a high shine on your book, and if you’re wanting to put out a quality product, YOU NEED A LINE EDITOR.
Who Can Do It
You need someone who is willing to be hyper-critical, who has an incredible eye for detail, and who will be brutally honest. You need someone who will focus on your manuscript word-by-word, think about every little detail of the story and how plausible every aspect of your story is given the world it takes place in. EVERYTHING matters, the smallest details can make a big difference in the quality of the final product. The easiest way to find a good line editor is to find someone who’s book you admire for it’s high quality, and ask them who their line editor is.
3. COPY EDIT
Many people hire only a copy editor to clean up their manuscript, not ever realizing the existence of the other types of editors or their importance. A copy editor cannot story, line, AND copy edit your book in one fell swoop. While they may TRY, they will miss too much and your book will not be of professional quality.
The copy edit is the LAST STEP before you publish (as in DO NOT make any more changes to your manuscript after it’s been copy edited because you will introduce new errors!). At this point your book is pretty near perfect. It has been through two different kinds of edits as well as beta readers/critique partners. It’s shiny, but will still have a few little spots that need cleaning up. That’s where your copy editor comes in.
What It Is
A copy editor cleans up any leftover typos, wrong words, missed inconsistencies (ie. making sure the color of the car is the same at the beginning and end of the story), and grammatical errors. Your copy editor, if he is good, will get rid of MOST of the errors remaining (nobody is perfect, and a few typos always slip through), which puts the final shine on your book.
Why You Need It
You want to put out a professional book, right? And even though you’ve had a story and line edit, have gone through your manuscript seventeen times yourself, there are still typos scattered throughout. You know how annoying it is to read a book riddled with errors, and how much it detracts from the reading experience and makes you feel like the author didn’t care enough. And I’m guessing you don’t want to get those reviews that complain about all the typos. Even if you’re anal about grammar, punctuation, and spelling, I promise you there are still errors in your manuscript—and too many of them to go ahead and publish it without this step.
Who Can Do It
Only someone who hasn’t read your manuscript yet. You need a fresh pair of eyes to be able to catch the errors, and someone who’s already read it will miss too many of them. You also need someone who’s a stickler for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and can spot when you’ve used the wrong word somewhere. A good way to find a good copy editor is to ask around.
So, there you have it! Each type of editing is vital to the process of putting out a professional book. Tomorrow we’ll talk about what YOU can do yourself in the editing process to clean up your manuscript, make your line and copy editors’ work MUCH more effective, and your resulting book a much shinier, prettier product.