Blogger: Mary Keeley
You just crossed the last “t” and dotted the last “i” and now your current book draft is finished. Many a brand new writer wants to think they’re almost at the finish line, but if you’re a published author or a writer who’s been on the journey for a while, you know that you’re at the starting gate. The next three-stage editing process is where the next hard work is done because it’s when you will edit your book to perfection.
The three types of edits and what they cover are:
- Developmental Edit (also called macro, content, or substantive edit) addresses these issues in a novel: development of plot, characters and their motivations, goals, and struggles, tension (sagging middle?), pace, begins in the right scene, tone, and these in a nonfiction book: main theme clearly stated in the beginning, points build on each other to a convincing conclusion at the end, right approach for target audience, holes in the argument, and so on.
- Line Edit is a line-by-line edit that assesses clarity and appropriateness of language and specific word usage, POV issues, effective communication of emotion and setting and tone, transition problems, dialogue problems, use of clichés, redundancies of words and phrases.
- Copy Edit (also called proofread) looks for errors in GPS (grammar, punctuation, and spelling), hyphenation, proper use and form for ellipses, hyphenation, numbers, and format. In the process the copyeditor often catches unresolved issues from the first two edits.
A good freelance editor is worth the proverbial weight in gold, but choose one carefully to avoid disappointments like these:
- The editor edits out your author voice. Possible causes are that the editor didn’t recognize your voice, or he or she allowed personal preference to overrule, or your voice wasn’t defined well, in which case a good editor would have consulted with you early in the process.
- The editor wasn’t qualified to do the type of edit your book needs now. Like any of us, editors have their strengths and weaknesses. An author friend might rave about the editor she hired to do a line edit or copy edit, but that doesn’t guarantee the same editor is trained or experienced at doing the high-quality developmental edit that your manuscript might need.
If your budget can handle only one professional edit, the developmental edit is the one I would recommend. Why? Because the story is everything to the fiction reader and the life-changing message of the Christian living book is everything to a nonfiction reader. If your book doesn’t deliver on these, it doesn’t matter how perfect the line and copy edit are. A publisher won’t be interested, and agents know this as they review submissions or a client’s new manuscript. Multi-published authors know this too, which is why many of them continue to use the services of a freelance developmental editor before they turn in the next manuscript. They know they have to continue to please their editor at the publishing house and their readers with stellar books that reap great sales in hopes of getting the next contract.
This isn’t to say that the line and copy edits aren’t important. They are the polish that brings your manuscript to its full shine. A publisher won’t be interested in a manuscript that has POV issues or repetitive phrases or bland words. More than a couple of misspellings or grammar mistakes tell publishers a writer isn’t professional or ready for publication.
While writers, even multi-published authors, are apt to miss a big-picture issue that the trained eyes an experienced developmental editor will catch, it’s a little easier for writers to master copyediting skills. If you can’t budget the expense of a professional line or copy edit, here are several tips that will help you:
- What Scrivener software is to the writing process resources such as The Chicago Manual of Style – 16th Edition, published by the University of Chicago Press, and The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, are to the line edit and copy edit. Earn your layman’s degree by devouring them.
- Then read your manuscript aloud. You’ll be amazed at what your educated ear will catch.
- Perhaps you and a skilled author friend can line and copy edit each other’s manuscript.
You can almost count on the fact that you’re going to miss something because you’re looking for many things and, being realistic, you’ve read your manuscript so many times that your eyes are beginning to glaze. You just want to be done. This underscores why professional edits or another set of sharp eyes is necessary.
If you don’t know how to find good editors, ask author friends for recommendations, but be specific about the type of editing you want done. Do online research. Contact an editor who impressed you at a writers conference. If he or she isn’t available to do the kind of edit you want, ask for recommendations. Above all, know what you’re paying for when you hire a freelance editor. Interview those you are considering and learn which type of editing they enjoy most and are strongest and most experienced at. Some may offer first to give your manuscript a quick review, for a small fee, and then recommend the work needed to edit your book to perfection.
Freelancers have rates per word for each of the types of editing they do, so you can calculate a close estimate of your fee when you interview them. When you hire the freelancer, ask him or her to communicate with you during the process if it looks like the edit is going to be more involved and costly than originally thought. There shouldn’t be any surprises.
What have you learned in working with freelance editors? Please, no divulging of names in your comments. Do you feel you got your money’s worth, and if not, what would you do differently in choosing a freelance editor next time? How has working with an editor helped you to grow in your craft?
A freelance editor can transform your manuscript. But do your research and choose carefully. Click to Tweet.
You finished your rough draft. Now comes the editing process. Here are some tips. Click to Tweet.
Great post, Mary. There’s absolutely no way I can afford a professional editor…but I have worked as one. I’m going to go out on a (short) limb and offer a couple of observations, things I’ve seen, if that’s OK.
* In DevEdit, character motivation seems to be the hardest thing to get right; it’s either “Whoa, why did she do THAT?” or “Yeah, I knew fifty years…er,pages ago that he’d order a caramel macchiato.” Backstory helps, but as a tool it’s a rapier, not a shovel. My feeling is that the most reliable way to develop ‘motivation justification’ is to use small actions that mirror a larger event that might come as a surprise.
* For example, having a protag put her car into a roadside ditch in a desperate effort to avoid hitting a suicidal squirrel in the road opens the door to things she might do later…like, say, paying off a neighbour’s house with lottery winnings (and winding up under FBI investigation because the neighbour disappears and then resurfaces as a terrorist…and if anyone needs a plot, there ya go).
* I’d add more, but fading energy and rising common sense augur differently.
OK, and to flesh out the offered storyline…
* Our generous heroine, having paid off the terrorist’s house with her lottery winnings, is investigated by the FBI, and the older, kindly agent who talks to her makes her feel at ease…even though she may be in big trouble.
* He is subsequently taken hostage by said terrorist, and our heroine is the only person who may be able to touch the terrorist’s heart, and see the agent safely released.
* But does the Man still live within the Monster? Read on and find out…
Great to see you here, Andrew. Giving thanks for it now!
Carol, thank you…I am lucky to still be here. Yesterday I passed out into another NDE, and The Man said, as clearly as a friend would, “It’s time to come home.”
* And I thought of THIS community, and said, as might a wayward, obstinate child, mulishly…”No!”
* And God rolled His eyes.
* I am very, very tired, but thank all for the prayers.
Echoing Carol’s thanks! I would have been happy to read any comment from you. The intrigue of lottery and terrorist is a bonus.
Shirlee, thank you. You guys give me a reason to live.
The first editor I paid did edit out my voice, but I didn’t realize it until a nice agent suggested I find my voice. Big, expensive, and embarrassing lesson learned.
THANK.PLEASE CAN WE BE FRD MOM
Mary, I’ve discovered that some of these descriptions are a moving target. For instance, just when I thought I’d done the last edit on my next novel to be published, I received a note that the copy-editor had made a few suggestions. Some of these were good, and I accepted them, but asked if it wasn’t unusual for the proof-reader to do things like that. I was told that nowadays the proof-reader is looked on as a second editor. It truly does take a village, doesn’t it?
Great post, Mary. I haven’t worked with an editor, mostly because the money just isn’t in the budget. But I am looking forward to hearing what people have learned.
*Karen Ball did a great post yesterday on this topic. Here’s the link, if anyone is interested: http://www.stevelaube.com/dont-let-an-editor-ruin-your-book/
Between the posts by the Steve Laube Agency folks and all the wonderful information from the Books & Such team, I have learned SO much in the past year about the profession of writing. I hope you all realize how much we appreciate all you do to help us.
Me too, Carol. 🙂
I haven’t worked with a professional editor either. Mostly because I have read here that some agents want to see the writer’s work, not someone else’s, if you are pre-published. And then if they like your work, then … you get it edited. I hope I have that correct. But I have worked with an amazing author. She looked over my first few chapters and gave me an incredible piece of information. Y’all probably already knew this, but she showed me where I was overwriting a bit. I’ll give a goofy example: As she reached to knock with her hand, the door opened. Well … everyone knows that you use your hand to knock on a door. And my MC wasn’t missing any hands. So, I don’t need that. I could take out “with her hand” … that’s common knowledge. I went through my MS and found a few words that could be omitted because of that. She said, “Trust your reader to know what you’re talking about.” That clicked … was gold to me … and I’m 30K words into my next MS, and every sentence I type, I remember that gold. 🙂 (though I’m sure I’ll find some I slid in there when I start editing)
Even though I have done professional editing (everything from scientific journal articles to Tolkien-style fantasy), the brightest lesson is this –
* I am not a good choice to do developmental and macro edits on my own work. I’m simply too close, and what’s implicit to me is opaque to readers. (Micro is a bit better, though still…I miss things.)
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I am currently avoiding an edit.
I am a famed Irish dancer.
I am a pro surfer.
Okay, ONE of the previous statements is true.
And YES, take your time choosing your editor!! One who will strengthen your voice, not strangle it!!
Jennifer, I didn’t realize there was such good surf in Canada. Isn’t the water a bit chilly? What type of wetsuit do you wear?
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Uhh, yeah, the iced over Saint John river has epic surf.
And uhh, RipCurl. Hot pink with purple lightning bolts.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Oh, and editing lesson learned the hard way?
Kristen Joy Wilks
I’ve only had a editor for a short time, but it was amazing how she smoothed things out with just a few changes here and there. But my critique partner is the one who really changed my writing with her furious red pen of death! Thank you, Jenn!!! Although, we edit each other’s stuff in Track Changes so I suppose it would be the red/purple/blue letters of death. She is so good at asking questions and thinking about motivation and noticing when something is off. Invaluable, is an understatement!
I love, love, love my editors—whom I carefully vet. They strengthen my voice and bring healthy distance to my writing. The first edit of the first manuscript looked as if a pen had exploded down the right side of my screen. The edit column extended FAAAAAR below my copy. It was horrendous. It was painful. It was JUST WHAT I NEEDED. Edits weed my literary garden and straighten up the rows of plants.
I also recommend an author read his or her (not THEIR, Bill Giovanetti!) manuscript out loud, starting with the LAST chapter. The beginning of my manuscripts are polished so often during the writing process that the last third needs extra attention.
Great post as always, Mary. Thank you!
Guys, need to hijack this thread, and no apologies.
* Barbara’s close friend went down in a meeting, and had to be evac’d.The issue is blackouts..trans ieschemic attack…TIA.
* She is a wonderful Christian and gave my wife the opportunity to shine when I could no longer work.
* Don’t pray for me. I’m going to die, and that’s cool. PLEASE pray for her, and her husband. She deserves to live. She deserves everything good that God has to offer.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Prayed! Keep us posted.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I am praying, Andrew.
In my bedtime prayers.
Praying for her–and you, Andrew. Always glad to see your comments each time I check the Books and Such postings–Yay! Andrew is still with us.
Having a best selling fiction author edit my work is one of the best investments I’ve made. The manuscript actually went to her twice and is about to go again. It’s my first fiction and it had some structural and other issues. It is becoming a much better manuscript because of her suggestions about motivations, timing etc.
Thank you for clarifying the different types of editors. When I first hired a developmental editor, I had no idea of the complexities of her task and the skill required. I am thankful God connected us. A friend suggested I hire a retired English teacher to edit my manuscript, but she doesn’t understand the role of the editors and the skills required. I might add that a good editor will probably be booked, so expect to wait in line. I’ve already sent a deposit check dated six months in advance to hold my spot for my current work in progress.
I’m late to commenting as I missed reading yesterday, but this post is great, Mary! I hired a professional editor who mostly did work on a developmental level. I wouldn’t say it was not helpful, but I’ll tell you that I feel my manuscript benefited way more from the intensive work I did with my critique group. We met up through ACFW and they all have been integral in how my manuscript shaped up. I don’t feel I wasted my money on the edit. She certainly taught me a lot about the industry, if nothing else process. But, I think I would have been wise to take more time researching before I chose the one I did.