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After deciding to pursue professional editing and choosing the perfect editor, you have a big decision to make. Which type or types of editing does your manuscript need?
It can be difficult to be objective about your own work's needs, so don't hesitate to reach out to your editor and ask for their opinion.
To help give you a starting place, I've broken down some common types of editing and the order you should pursue them. Note that terminology is not completely standardized across the industry, so always confirm the scope of work with your editor. The definitions below reflect those of the services available from Blue Pen.
Developmental editing is a type of high-level editing, which simply means that it focuses on the story aspects (characterization, plot, structure, etc.) rather than the prose.
The definition and scope of developmental editing varies widely, but at Blue Pen, this service includes:
Other names for developmental editing include content editing and substantive editing.
This type of editing can be a game changer for your book. A skillful developmental editor will point out problem areas and present solutions that you may be too close to the work to identify.
As an author, you should work to incorporate developmental feedback creatively and in a manner that aligns with your vision for the work.
Developmental editing should always happen before any type of low-level editing. Unless you pursue a manuscript critique, which is another type of high-level editing, the developmental edit should happen first.
This is crucial because developmental editing often results in broad, sweeping changes to the manuscript. Chapters are cut, added, and rewritten. If you were to pursue prose-level editing first, you would be wasting both time and money by polishing prose that is cut or rewritten during the developmental stage.
A manuscript critique, also called a manuscript evaluation, is another high-level form of editing. For a deep evaluation of your high-level elements, you can choose to pursue a manuscript critique before your developmental edit. (At Blue Pen, this is known as a deep developmental.)
Like developmental editing, the manuscript critique should occur before any prose-level editing, such as line editing or proofreading.
A manuscript critique explores the same elements as developmental editing. However, it is less in-depth and therefore less expensive. The cost of a critique is often a third of that of developmental editing.
At Blue Pen, a manuscript critique includes only a written report detailing the work's strengths and weaknesses, with an action plan for improvement. The report is typically shorter than a developmental edit letter and emphasizes the identification of problem areas, rather than potential solutions. A critique does not include in-text comments or a phone session.
A manuscript critique is a good option for writers who need an affordable service and for those who aren't sure what their next steps should be. A critique provides a road map to help you navigate the next steps of your editing journey.
Line editing is a low-level type of editing, meaning it involves changes at the sentence level. This type of editing should occur after the high-level elements are settled. So if you intend to pursue developmental editing or a manuscript critique, do so before seeking line editing.
As far as terminology, things begin to get foggy here.
The difference between line editing and heavy copyediting is not completely standardized, so writers should discuss the scope with their editor and ensure they are on the same page. If you have any questions about the scope of the edit, most editors will be willing to provide a brief sample edit.
At Blue Pen, line editing involves adjustments to the prose for clarity, concision, consistency, and correctness.
Line editing eliminates ambiguity and redundancy, while highlighting the manuscript's unique voice. Especially when line editing fiction, line editing involves creativity and requires subjective decisions. The editor must weight the options regarding each change.
For example, the editor may decide to let stand a sentence structure that could have been rendered more concisely if the construction aligns with the manuscript's voice.
When working with fiction, specifically, an editor may not conform completely to formal stylistic and grammatical rules if they impede readability or conflict with the overall tone of the work.
As you can tell, there are many considerations related to line editing. But a solid line edit is one of the most important passes to bringing a manuscript up to a professional, publishable level.
If you pursue only two types of editing, consider a developmental edit and a line edit. You will see a vast improvement in the work.
Proofreading comprises the final pass to a manuscript. Proofreaders address objective errors, including typos and punctuation issues.
A proofread should take place after line editing or copyediting. A proofread should not be performed on a manuscript that has yet to undergo low-level editing. And most proofreaders will not take on manuscripts that are not clean enough for this final pass.
Victoria Griffin is an author and editor based in East Tennessee. She is the founder and owner of Blue Pen, which provides editing services for traditionally and independently publishing authors. Blue Pen also offers publishing services including cover design and interior formatting.
Victoria's short fiction has appeared in more than 40 publications, and she is represented by Sandy Lu of Book Wyrm Literary Agency.