If you’re planning to self-publish your book, you will need an editor. The question is, what kind of editor do you need?
Let’s assume you’ve already self-edited your work and are on your third or fourth draft. (For more details on how to self-edit, check out my blog post here. Or go here for more information on the different stages of a draft.) So you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can. What next?
The next step is to work with an editor. Even if you’re hoping to sign a contract with a traditional publisher, you will still want to work with an editor on your proposal which includes three sample chapters. If you want a contract, it needs to shine, and that means an editor.
Let’s look at the different types of editors.
While some editors offer both developmental and structural editing together and others excel at one, I’ve chosen to group these editors together as they all look at your manuscript from a birds-eye-view perspective. These editors look at structure, content, and continuity. They are not interested in the details of your spelling or grammar and will not offer you an opinion on whether your writing is good or bad. As their name suggests, they are looking at the structure of the manuscript as a whole. Does it work? Is there missing content?
Developmental/structural editors are at the top of the editing tier. They address the major problems. As such, writers and authors typically seek the help of these editors early on in their writing to ensure their concept works… or after a slew of rejection letters when they aren’t sure why their concept isn’t working.
Following a developmental/structural edit, be prepared to do a lot of rewriting. Your editor will send you notes (read: their opinion) on what needs to be fixed. They will not do the writing for you.
Line editors comb through your manuscript sentence by sentence. They look for redundancies, word choice, syntax, and awkward phrasing. A line editor is the secret sauce to good writing—they make your manuscript sing. They also make your manuscript easier to read. As line editing is more about the musicality of language and less about the rules, you could have three line editors all with differing opinions.
Copyeditors deal in facts. They look for the typos, missed words, misspellings, and follow a style sheet. In manuscripts where there is a lot of terminology, copyeditors will ensure these words remain consistent throughout.
For most people, editing is synonymous with the work of the copyeditor. The truth is, every level of editing is important. No amount of copyediting can fix a manuscript with structural problems.
Proofreaders are your last line of defense. They are look for major errors, omissions, extra spaces between words and so on. Proofreading is one of the few jobs I would trust my friends to do, but you may still want to hire a proofreader. We’ve all read books with typos in them. They’re easy to miss even for professionals.
So which one do you need? The answer to this question depends upon your skill and experience as a writer as well as the state of your manuscript. Manuscripts with a solid grasp on the structure and content may not need a developmental editor. They may simply need a copy editor and a proof reader.
*If you’d still like to learn more about editing, I highly recommend Allison K Williams’ book, Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro From lank Page to Book.